Thank you!

Thank you word cloudA huge and appreciative thank you to the NHS, emergency services, train and bus drivers, retail workers, pharmacists, binmen, postal workers, teachers, delivery drivers, utilities workers, small shopkeepers, kind neighbours, carers, and everyone else who is out there keeping Britain going during the coronavirus outbreak.

You are amazing. Stay safe.

Farewell to the European Union

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I’m thoroughly ashamed of my country sometimes. As the sun sets on our membership of the European Union, I could only find this to say. It seemed rather apt under the circumstances.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

John Donne (1572-1631)

Bringing in the Mistletoe (1959)

Boys from Trawsfynydd collecting holly and mistletoe to sell (December 1959)

I’ve been seeing a lot of Christmas decorations going up this last week or so (although someone on my street has actually had their tree up since Halloween!). I’m still catching up a bit, I’ve only just dragged my tree out of the cupboard where it lives for the rest of the year – although I have bought some cute new ornaments already and have been wondering where I might get some sprigs of holly to add to the festive wreath I hang on my front door.

These cheerful young lads might have helped me in that last respect. They’re from the Welsh village of Trawsfynydd, and they have been preparing for Christmas in traditional fashion by gathering festive greenery from the local area.

Photographer Geoff Charles has caught these 1950s schoolboys on their way to the market to sell their carefully gathered bundles of holly and mistletoe; green winter treasures that are destined to decorate the houses and cottages of the village for Christmas – and earn these young entrepreneurs a bit of pocket money towards festive expenses too…

The lads in this charming 1959 photograph from the National Library of Wales collection would have had an amazing natural environment to grow up in, and Christmas traditions connected to the landscape like gathering seasonal greenery for the home or for sale would likely have been a longstanding custom repeated by successive generations of kids and adults.

Bringing in the mistletoe and taking it to market was a tradition rich in symbolism elsewhere too, which you can see in these 18th and 19th-century images of mistletoe sellers from France and Switzerland. It is pleasing to report that mistletoe markets remain part of the Christmas season in numerous places to this day.

For lots more Christmas reading (and viewing) from me, click here

 

Vintage Animal Magic: ‘Dog Fashions’ (1958)

The world is a thoroughly horrible place at the moment. Every day it seems to get worse and worse. I don’t know about you, but I’m spending a lot of time looking at pictures of cute animals in an attempt to bleach my brain of the terrible things that appear on the news daily. It works – for a while, anyway. So here’s a newsreel snippet of some very trendy 1950s doggos in their designer outfits for you. I hope it makes you smile!

For more from British Pathé (including some fascinating film on vintage fashion for humans), follow their YouTube channels here and here.

A Small Celebration of Yorkshire Day

Today is Yorkshire Day, an annual celebration of all things connected to God’s Own County, as it is affectionately known. Although I am a Londoner born and bred, I know that a great number of my ancestors came from the West Riding of Yorkshire, and I still have links to that part of the world. So, to celebrate Yorkshire Day, I went on a hunt for something interesting to share with you all – and I found this intriguing photograph.

Taken somewhere between 1898 and 1902, this image shows Park Row in Leeds city centre (now part of the city’s financial district). It is a moment in time on a fairly busy street, showing many Leeds residents going about their everyday lives. They all seem to be ignoring the photographer… except for the group of boys in the foreground, who have stopped with their handcart by an ornate lamp-post to watch in fascination as the picture is taken.

Even as late as the turn of the 20th century, the sight of a photographer and all his kit can’t have been a common one for such working-class lads, and it’s obvious that they’re highly curious and seem to want to get in on the action! Perhaps it is my imagination, but are one or two of them posing for the camera? One also wonders if they ever got to see the finished article – or even knew that they played a small part in the history of Leeds and of Yorkshire.

VOTE!

We’re voting for the future of our society and public services here. Do you really want to see the Tories continuing their reckless destruction of all the things that are important to us as British people? This is about all of us, the many and not the few. It’s easily the most important election for many years; please get out there and vote and we might see the right result for everybody…

You still have time to cast your vote – the polling stations are open until 10pm tonight (and you never know, you might see some cool dogs!)

I’ve voted. Have you?

A Few Thoughts on the EU Referendum

Politics has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I studied the subject at A-Level and as an undergraduate back in the 1990s, and participation in the democratic process has always been and still is of great importance to my family. I have voted in every single election (both local and national) since I was of an age to be included on the electoral register.

I am old enough to remember the viciousness of the Thatcher years, and the dramatic change of government in 1997 (with all that later entailed). But I cannot recall any political campaign as ugly, bigoted and as downright unpleasant as this one. The decision whether or not to leave the EU has brought out the absolute worst in a large number of British people, particularly those supporting Brexit. And I’m sick of it.

The horrible murder last week of the MP Jo Cox (by a man with the kind of disturbing far-right views that have basically hijacked the issue) is the latest – and worst – event in a campaign where racism, lies, bullying and aggression have been rife, becoming part of the political discourse of the UK in a way that has brought it all home to us in a terrifying fashion.

This violence has to stop. This racism has to stop. This lying for political gain has to stop (yeah, I know. It won’t). If many of those who are campaigning for Brexit get their way and we leave the EU, these issues will only get worse. I don’t want to see that. Most British people don’t want to see that, it’s not what this country is all about. We need to dial back the fiery rhetoric and start looking at the real questions that affect real people, because that’s what matters. People matter, wherever they’re from and wherever they’re going.

So yes, I will be voting tomorrow.

And I will be voting REMAIN.

Battle Abbey: 1066 and All That?

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I often talk about the fact that there are places where history exists in layers, where you can physically feel the weight of the past on the present. Battle Abbey in East Sussex is one such place. The importance of what happened here in October 1066 is still palpable nearly one thousand years later, for this is the site of what we now know as the Battle of Hastings – one of the most crucial moments in all of English history.

It all began (and ended) with the death of a king, as these things so often do. And, as is also so often the case with medieval history, that’s where it all gets a bit complicated. On 4th January 1066, King Edward (‘the Confessor’) died. He had no children and thus no direct heir. As a result, his death was likely to leave something of a power vacuum in England.

This was a problem in the making, since the English throne was among the most desirable in all of Europe due to its significant economic and military strength at the time. Unsurprisingly, amongst all the interested parties there were a number of claimants sniffing round the throne (although who claimed or promised what to whom will never be known with any accuracy now), with three in particular having perhaps the most legitimate claims to the English crown at the time.

Continue reading “Battle Abbey: 1066 and All That?”