Tuesday, 31 August 2010

A Tapestry of Love

ROMANTIC fiction is not necessarily a genre with which I am familiar, and it is always a little worrying to review a book written by someone you know – it’s a bit like reviewing dramas or musicals produced by or starring friends.

I used to do this when I was reporting and was often faced with a terrible dilemma because I hated to hurt people’s feelings by saying their show was terrible (even if it was).

On the other hand, I have my own integrity as a writer to consider, and have always been as truthful as I could.

However in the case of Rosy Thornton, an online friend (and a friend of a friend), I need not have worried.

The Tapestry of Love, her latest novel, is a wonderful read, and I loved it.

I immersed myself in it over two days while holidaying in the House on Wheels, in lovely sunshine, on a beautiful site with well manicured grass, full of mushrooms and fairy rings, which somehow reminded me of sites we stayed on in France when I was a child.

So this novel , set in France, was just perfect – it captured the feel of the country so well that it was a shock to hear the voices around me speaking English and to realise I wasn’t abroad after all.

The book is an assault on the senses. I could see the harsh mountain scenery of the Cevennes, and feel the weather as the seasons unfolded: the sad rains and howling winds of autumn, the bitter ice of winter and the searing, debilitating heat of summer.

I could hear the buzz of the bees, a hunting owl and the rhythm of cicadas.

I could smell the damp earth of the forest, herbs growing – and food being cooked and served.

Indeed the descriptions of food were so good I could actually taste the dishes and even the wild b0ar casserole seemed attractive (not something a vegetarian would usually say – I don’t even eat meat substitutes).

Oh dear, I have rambled on without even mentioning the plot or characters, but I wanted to try and portray the feel of the book.

So here goes. Catherine has left her home in England for a new life in the Cevennes mountains, where she once spent happy childhood holidays. There she hopes to build a business stitching tapestries and soft furnishings.

She leaves behind her grown-up son and daughter; her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s; her high-flying sister and her ex-husband, who has just been dumped by the woman he left her for almost a decade ago.

Rosy Thornton handles Catherine’s relationships with her family well – especially that with her journalist daughter, whose short-lived enthusiasms give cause for concern, but who always lands on her feet.

Relationships between Catherine and her new neighbours are also deftly drawn.

From her first quirky encounters with them – including an initial encounter when her car is surrounded by sheep on their way down the hillside to overwinter on lower pastures - friendships are built slowly and she gradually becomes a part of the community.

But it her budding relationship with the reclusive mystery man Patrick Castagnol - threatened by interest from her sister – which is the most important.

In the tradition of all good romantic novels, Patrick is impossibly perfect. Good-looking, suave, sophisticated, but equally at home in the rural mountains, he speaks fault-free English, is well read, well-educated and a marvellous cook. But he has a past….

And it is not as frothy as sounds. There are deeper issues at stake here, such as sibling rivalry and Catherine’s feelings of guilt at abandoning the mother whose illness means no longer recognises her.

It also explore the problems of rural life where traditional work has been lost as young people move away, and the bureaucracy imposed by national park status can stifle future growth while trying to protect an area from development.

Above all, A Tapestry of Love is a love affair, not just between two people, but with a country – France.

Read it and enjoy.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Compost Tea

MY compost is rubbish. I have been nurturing it for the last year, to little or no effect.

I carefully save eggshells, tea bags, vegetable peelings, fluff from the tumble dryer, shredded paper and grass cuttings, and into the compost bin they go – but do they turn into dark brown, rich, friable soil perfect for growing seeds, cuttings and vegetables? No, they do not.

They just sit there, looking much the same as they did to start with, and smelling a little whiffy. I have added a ‘starter’. I have watered the bin to keep the contents moist. I have stopped watering in case it was too dry.

I stuck a piece of old carpet on the top to keep it warm beneath the lid, and even tried stirring it to mix everything up and aerate it - a task which required me to stand on a chair while wielding a garden fork .

But nothing seems to work.

So when I saw a copy of The Green Guide to Compost, by Rachelle Strauss (Flame Tree Publishing) in a charity shop I pounced on it with enthusiasm.

There are 256 pages all about composting. As The Daughters remarked, you would not have thought there was so much to say on the subject.

But it seems there is.

And this book explains it all, clearly and simply, with plenty of pictures. It tells you why you should compost (good for the environment, saves money), what to put in it – and what to leave out.

There are ‘recipes’ for getting the mix right, tips about layering , greens, browns, hot composting, cold composting, and advice about the different types of containers available, as well as details on the old-fashioned compost heaps that many gardeners still favour.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on ‘How to Influence Your Compost Pile’. Would it were that easy, but so far my rotting rubbish maintains a mind of its own, and refuses to be cajoled or persuaded into what I would regard as correct behavior for a compost in the making.

For a while I wondered if the author had tried hypnotising her garden waste into submission, but careful reading revealed that I should pay more attention to micro-organisms. They need oxygen and carbon-rich materials.

There’s a useful chapter on how to tell when your compost is ready (assuming you gave the patience to wait that long), another on how to use your compost, and an excellent section on trouble-shooting when things go wrong (so I shall ignore a suggestion from the Man of the House who says a visit to the garden centre to buy ready-made products would solve all problems ).

The book also gives information about other composting methods, such as bokashi bins, which can be used to break down left-over cooked food; wormeries and special teas – for the plants, not the gardener.

It was a very informative book but whether the advice it contains will enable me to transform my rubbish heap into a bin full of wonderful soil remains to be seen.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Ancestor Hunting

ANCESTOR hunting can be hard work. It calls for stout shoes, sharp eyes and good organisational skills.

We spent a week walking around the Southam area of Warwickshire to see where where the forefathers of the Man of the House lived and worked.

He had always understood that his father's side of the family moved to the north of England from Germany, so it came as a surprise when he discovered that not only were they English, but they lived in the Midlands, not far from where we are.

In St Margaret's Parish Church at Wolston we saw the font where his great-great-great-great grandmother was baptised, and were given a guided tour by church members, who proudly pointed out the carved sheela na gig at the top of a column - it always seems so odd to find such a pagan (and sexually explicit) symbol in a Christian church.

There were also remnants of wall painting dating back to Medieval or Tudor times and a beautiful decorated ceiling.

We also visited St Gregory's Church, in Offchurch, where his great-great-great-great grandparents were married. The building had a 12th century lepers' window (also known as a squint). Now filled with stained glass, it was once a small opening covered with a wooden slat or shutter so lepers (who were forbidden to enter churches) could stand outside and listen to the service.

In addition the church contained the remains of a stone tomb, allegedly that of Offa, King of the Mercians (or, possibly his son). Apparently this small isolated village was big and impartant in Saxon times and Offa had a palace there - hence its name.

I was intrigued by this, since we live in Tamworth, which was the capital of Mercia, where Offa had his main palace.

It was quite amazing - and rather moving - to stand in the churches where The Man's forebears stood all those years ago and to think of how hard life must been for them,

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Putting up a 3D Jig-saw

WELL,we survived our first adventure in The House on Wheels and are now back home - and already planning our next trek.

The Man of the House coped brilliantly with towing, but I was much more nervous. My role as passenger and navigator gave me plenty of scope to worry. I kept looking through the rear window in the expectation of seeing the HoW backing away from us, as we continued to travel forwards.

Fortunately, that didn't happen, but I was also fearful that the HoW would topple over, or be blown on its side, or that the door would burst open and our possessions would would hurtle out...

On top of that I worried about losing us (my sense of direction is not good), and about something going wrong with the car, or someting going wrong with the HoW, or having an accident.

And if that wasn't bad enough I was uneasy about the House we Left Behind. Did we shut all the windows? Did we lock the doors? Did we turn everything off? Would the cat be good for his 'sitter'? Did I put the rubbish out? Had I left the iron on?

As a result of all this fretting, by the time we reached our first campsite I was a nervous wreck - a condition not improved by our attempts to erect the awning.

What seemed like acres of canvas had to be slid into position at the side of the HoW and manhandled over a framework constructed from a mystifying collection of metal poles of varying sizes. In addition, there were monster rubber bands, ties and metal pegs to keep the assemblage in place.

The instructions consisted of a rather bad diagram on a small piece of paper, and the whole experience was reminiscent of our past struggles with flat-pack furniture -it was like trying to put a three-dimensional jig-saw togther, without the aid of a picture.

Spurred on by our success at a site near home (close enough for a hasty retreat if anything went wrong!) we ventured further afield, but failed to pluck enough courage to wrestle with the awning again.

However, apart from that, we had a wonderful, relaxing week. We stayed on sites surrounded by hedges and trees, with mushrooms growing in the grass alongside dark green 'fairy circles'.

Other caravanners were unfailingly friendly and helpful, offering advice, and showing us what to do.

And people were just as nice in the villages where we wandered around, hunting for information about the Man of the House's ancestors and the way they lived 160 years ago.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Marooned at the end of the Garden

WE have been marooned in our House on Wheels (aka the caravan) - and we were only at the bottom of the garden!

Having gone down there to check things over we were caught in a torrential downpour of monsoon-like proportions, so we shut the door and sat inside snug as two bugs in a rug.

At least we know it is warm and dry, with no leaks. The water pump works; the cooker works and the lights work off the battery. So far, so good!

We have been equipping it with the essentials: pots, pans, tin opener,knives forks, spoons, plastic plates, dishes, mugs and a chemical loo (I have no intention of trekking across a muddy field to 'spend a penny').

I've gathered up the towels wrecked by The Daughters' hair dye, the oldest tea towels, some spare pillows, and have even bought myself a sleeping bag.

The Man of the House, who already has his own sleeping bag, says it should be replaced in its cover each morning to keep it neat and tidy, but since I have trouble getting a quilt into a duvet cover I have little hope of success. It will, I fear, be like trying to get an orange back into its peel.

Friday, 13 August 2010

The Secret Scripture

TIME to review the second of my charity shop gems. The Secret Scripture, by Sebastian Barry, was a wonderful read that could only have been written by an Irishman. The lovely, lyrical language sang with an Irish lilt, following the cadences of speech in the author’s native land.

Roseanne McNulty has been incarcerated in a decaying mental hospital for the last 60 years. Now, nearing 100, she keeps a hidden journal, an account of her past life and how she came to be in care.

It tells of her childhood, when her Presbyterian father was superintendent of the Catholic graveyard in Sligo town during the bitter days of the civil war, as Republicans fought supporters of the recently formed Irish Free State.

It tells of her job in a café, her marriage, her fall from grace in a society where a married woman had no life of her own, the birth and loss of her child, and her life today.

It tells of the parish priest whose word was law in the local community, and whose decisions had such a terrible impact on Roseanne and her family, and it tells of her life and feelings today.

Alongside her tale another story unfolds in the Commonplace Book written by Dr Grene, the hospital’s senior psychiatrist.

He sets out to chart his efforts to oversee the closure of the hospital and the moving of patients to a new facility. But he also writes about his own life: his youth, his failed marriage – and his search to discover more about the elderly woman in his care, who seems to have been erased from history, nullified by those who knew her.

Roseanne and Dr Grene have both known love and loss, hope and disappointment, joy and despair as they search for identity. Their testimonies augment each other and eventually converge in an ending which is not unexpected – even though the book blurb describes it as a ‘shocking secret’.

There are echoes in Roseanne’s story of Ireland’s infamous Magdalene ‘laundries’ for fallen women, and we should not forget that there are still societies where women pay a heavy price for not conforming.

Verdict: I loved this book. It made me angry and sad and joyful in turn – and sometimes all at once. It is a beautifully written (almost poetic) tale that I know I will return to again and again – so into the re-reading section it goes.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Year of Wonders

MY haul of charity shop goodies has produced two gems so far.

Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks, and The Secret Scripture, by Sebastian Barry, have both made their way on to the ‘read again’ shelves. How could anyone have parted with either of them?

The first book, the author’s fictional debut, is described as ‘A Novel of the Plague’, and was inspired by the story of Eyam, the Derbyshire village which shut itself off from the world in a bid to halt the spread of the disease.

Eventually, to prevent further contagion, church services were held outside and those who died were buried beside their homes, rather than being carried to the hallowed land of the graveyard.

It’s difficult to grasp the full impact of such actions on a society where the church held such an important position and religion played a far stronger part in people’s lives than it does today.

Set in 1665/6, the novel portrays a world where blind faith vies with superstition, where knowledge strives to overcome ignorance, and where the social order of the day prevents growth and understanding.

It explores the relationships between villagers as they struggle to come to terms with the disaster that has overwhelmed them, and looks at the way they react to the deaths of others and to their own mortality.

For just over a year villagers live a strange, isolated life. Some are driven mad by fear and loneliness, while others see a chance to pay off old scores or further their own ends, and a few selflessly do what they can to care for the sick and dying and to aid the survivors.

Anna Frith, the young, widowed narrator, watches as her lodger, children and neighbours all die. Somehow, she manages to combat despair and, as she tends those who are ill, she acquires new skills which enable her to step out of her lowly position, take control of her own life and to help others.

Befriended by the rector’s wife, she gathers knowledge where she can. As she observes the villagers in their hour of need she begins to understand something of human nature; she learns to read and write, becomes a talented nurse and can translate the Latin in medical books.

But when the ‘all clear’ is sounded things can never be the way they were: once the plague has passed the survivors have more trials to face as they realise how few are left to cope with the tasks of everyday life, for animals must still be cared for, crops tended and harvests gathered.

And there are more horrors in store before Anna finally finds the confidence to make a new future for herself far, far from home.

Some of the characters in the book are base on actual people, while others have been created by the author but, thanks to her meticulous research, they all live and breathe like real people of the time – and looking at people’s reactions to the unknown, I wonder if we really have moved on that much in the last 350 years.

Visitors to Eyam cannot fail to be moved by the story of how some 260 villagers sacrificed themselves for the greater good. And there is a kind of triumph in their tragedy, because they did prevent the disease spreading to neighbouring parishes.

This novel gives them a voice, and makes a plea for acceptance and understanding.

Verdict: I really enjoyed this book. It made me think about the way people deal with illness and disaster that are outside their control, and about women's lives. Defintely one to be read again.

* See tomorrow's blog for a review of The Secret Scripture.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Boop Oop A Doop Boop

BOOP oop a doop boop! Betty Boop is 80 today – and you must admit she doesn’t look bad for her age!

She first appeared in the cartoon Dizzy Dishes, on 9 August 1930, and became hugely popular in a very short space of time, and has retained her iconic status through to the present day.

Created by Max Fleischer and animator Grim Natwick for Fleischer Studios, Betty was originally envisaged as a cross between a poodle and a woman, but soon became all woman in a series of films distributed by Paramount Pictures.

She was the first cartoon character to become a sex symbol and both her appearance and the storylines, were considered to be more than a little risqué.

Betty Boop is said to have been modelled on Helen Kane, the actress, singer and dancer known as the original ‘Boop-Oop-A-Doop’ girl, but she may also have owed something to ‘It’ girl Clara Bow.

At any rate, Kane (pictured above)sued Fleischer and Paramount, claiming they had exploited her with a caricature, but lost her case because the judge ruled that neither her appearance nor her singing style were unique.

However, by the mid-1930s new guidelines for the motion picture industry meant studio bosses had to make Betty more wholesome, with less sexual innuendo. Out went her short skirt and trademark garter, replaced by more decorous garments - but respectability came at the expense of popularity.

Today she is more popular than ever before. There is a thriving merchandising business and her name has passed into popular culture.

She may be a male fantasy, but she is viewed as strong rather than weak or down-trodden – a woman with an enormous zest for life, who is vulnerable, but lives life on her own terms, without losing her femininity.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Cards and Carpets

I WAS going to be busy all day. I even had a list of things to do:

* Dust the surfaces
* Hoover the carpets
* Wash the kitchen floor
* Catch up on the ironing
* Email the agenda for the next credit union meeting

A Facebook friend put me to shame by tidying her house and doing some baking - but I spent most of the day embroidering cards.

Since I am experimenting with mixed media techniques the floor is now littered with beads, buttons,ribbons, snippets of lace, clippings from material, pieces of text torn from an old dictionary, paint spatters, threads and a dollop of acrylic wax - to say nothing of the pins and needles.

I quite like sitting on a cushion on the floor, with my back against the sofa (which is also covered in my needlwork supplies, but I do seem to have spread!

The embroideries produced today have not yet been mounted, so I have included photos of some I did earlier. The yellow one at the top was stitched for a friend who has been ill, while the pink one at the bottom was for the wedding of a friend of Elder Daughter.

Each card I create is slightly different, depending on the materials I have to hand, and how inspiration strikes. Some have more more embroidery, some have less, and I like to incorporate bits of text, torn from books that are falling to pieces, then coated with acrylic wax, which can be painted on and dries soft, so you can stitch through it.

I finding stamping letters or shapes onto the fabric and combining this with embroidery is very effective, and each picece is backed with felt to give a quilted feel.

Sometimes I trim the edges with ribbon or lace, sometimes I use the machine to zig-zag round them, then I stitch the finished work to cards, using beads or buttons.

I love fiddling around with colours and textures, and trying different techniques,but I do seem to make a mess while I am working.

Still, tomorrow is another day, so I shall think about the housework then...

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Caravanning for Beginners

WE have bought a dear little caravan. Like us, it is a little battered around the edges and somewhat faded by time, but it is watertight, dry and cosy.

It has an awning, pale green, velvet curtains and green floral seating, which doubles up as bedding (two single or one double, depending how friendly we are feeling!)

There is plenty of storage space, a tiny shower, the smallest sink I have ever seen, (with a lid to cover it – how I wish I could cover the sink in the house), a fridge, a two-ring stove and a heater.

The Man of the House, who will be doing the driving (I have no intention of towing anything, least of all a caravan, however small it may be), plans to take us to folk festivals and research the family history (his).

I want to go to literary festivals and research the family history (mine).

Clearly, there could be some kind of conflict here, so a compromise will have to be reached, but there is plenty of scope to visit the sites where our great-great-greats lived and worked.

We aim to start by travelling somewhere relatively close, where there are no hills or bendy roads hills, or bendy narrow roads! Then, when we’re feeling confident (and competent) we can venture further afield.

The caravan, is a Lunar Meteor, (or possibly a Meteor Lunar) which sounds a little exotic and mysterious – but not so exotic and mysterious as the caravanserai of the Arab world, trekking across the deserts with camels packed with silks, frankincense, spices, and other precious ‘cargoes’ camels.

Nor is our holiday home as romantic-looking as a traditional Gipsy caravan.

But it is more homely and reminds me of childhood holidays. In those days even static caravans where we stayed had no electricity: the lights and cooker all ran on Calor Gas, and when we stepped inside for the first time there was always a strange but distinctive smell, a mix of mustiness and gas.

Anyway, we collected our caravan yesterday, and set off for home, expecting the journey would take around half-an-hour, but we took a wrong turn somewhere, got lost, and travelled in a huge circle, arriving back at the place where we had bought the caravan an hour or more after we left them!

Eventually we got back to the house, safe and sound, but the trip reminded me of the GK Chesterton poem The Rolling English Road:

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

It is to be hoped that by the time we embark on our first trip our sense of direction has improved, but part of the charm of caravanning is that you explore new places.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

A Game of Go in the Car Park

IF you watched a madwoman crawling across the seats of a car, it was probably me and, unlikely though it sounds, there is a logical explanation.

Having left my VW Golf in the local Asda car park, I returned to find it wedged firmly between two large 4x4s, each spilling out over the white lines into MY space.

On the driver’s side the other vehicle was so close it was impossible to get through the gap to reach the door.

The approach to the passenger door looked slightly easier, so I took a deep breath, sucked in my stomach, flattened myself against the bodywork and slid sideways towards my target.

Success – or so I thought. My hopes were quickly dashed. The skinniest of anorexic Size 0 celebrities would have been unable to squeeze through the minuscule aperture when I opened the door.

I thought about trying to crawl through the boot, but abandoned the idea – I was much too scared of getting trapped!

Eventually I managed to manoeuvre myself through the rear passenger door and clambered across to the driver’s seat.

Then, of course, I had to reverse, out without bumping or scratching the vehicles on either side of me – although it could be argued that a driver who parks so close to another conveyance jolly well deserves some kind of damage.

The procedure was further complicated because the 4x4s were not only too wide for the spaces they occupied - they were also too long, blocking my view of oncoming traffic.

And in the row behind me, looming perilously close, were even more of these wretched automobiles.

Having escaped, I made my way to Hobbycraft, where exactly the same thing happened and once again boxed in by drivers with very large vehicles and very small brains.

Fortunately one of them returned and moved his car, but why do people want to park like that? Do they simply not care? Are they hiding somewhere, laughing at my struggles as I try to get into my car? Or is it some strange kind of game, Like Chinese Go, but using vehicles rather than counters to surround an opponent?

Anyway, I was so furious I decided a Wednesday Whinge was the only course of action, even though I wrote about the problem last summer when I was doing my Grumpy Old Woman column for the Tamworth Herald.

I’ve resurrected that piece, with some alterations, and am now considering launching another campaign (in addition to the ones for protecting the English language).
This time I will use my trusty red pen to note vehicle numbers, so I can name and shame the drivers – and I will write to shops and councils urging them to solve the problem by creating larger parking spaces.

Monday, 2 August 2010

We were only Window Shopping!

YOUNGER daughter and I went to Sutton: she to register at an employment agency, me to provide moral support.

She hoped to widen the circle of her search for work, while I planned to browse in Waterstone’s.

Since we are both short of cash, we did not intend to look at shops selling dresses (or any other garments). And we were certainly not going to seek out stores displaying shoes, bags, jewellery or any other accessories.

Window shopping was the order of the day.

But somewhere along the way our resolve weakened, and we wandered into Dorothy Perkins, convinced there was no harm in looking…

How wrong we were. Lured by the sale rail, we headed for the changing rooms bearing armfuls of clothing, still insisting that everything was fine, and we could try, but not buy…

Younger daughter succumbed to the charms of a pretty, lilac dress and some necklaces.

I fell in love with baggy, pink and black number, printed with a lacy pattern. The only problem was it was slightly see-through and had a very low neckline. So I rifled through the hangers and found a baggy, pink, elongated T-shirt, complete with frill at the bottom – perfect for an underdress, I thought.

Then I realised my ugly, flat, comfy shoes didn’t do justice to the outfit, so I tried on a pair of black high heels… and I felt instantly transformed.

Finally, I couldn’t resist a clutch bag in exactly the right shade of pink.

At that point, trying hard to convince ourselves that we had saved money because our purchases were reduced, we beat a hasty exit, and left for home.

Then I accompanied the Man of the House to get a tow bar fitted to the back of his car - but I’m not going to tell you what it’s for until later in the week. Hopefully, all will be revealed on Wednesday.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

A Loaf for Lammas Day

TODAY is Lammas, when a loaf baked from the corn of the first sheaf cut was blessed in church.

The word Lammas is thought to be derived from loafmass, and it was an ancient festival celebrating the first fruits of harvest – unlike the more modern harvest festival which marks the end of the season.

In some areas ‘first loaves’ were kept for luck, or crumbled in fields or barns to bring a good harvest the following year, and corn dollies made from the first sheaf were also considered fortunate.

Additionally, labourers were often required to present a portion of their harvest to their landlord on Lammas Day, and it was one of the traditional days on which rents and taxes had to be paid.

In Medieval times the festivities lasted a week or more. Lammas fairs were hugely popular, and were considered a good time for weddings and betrothals.

But Lammastide ceased to be observed during the Reformation, when Henry VIII broke with Rome and the Church of England was founded.

But the name lived on as ‘lammas lands’ or ‘lammas fields’. These appear to have been common lands, often on low-lying or marshy land alongside rivers. Corn and hay were grown on strips, but after Lammas, when the harvest was over, commoners had the right to graze animals there through the winter months.

When I was a child, there was a ‘Lammas’ at Staines, on the other side of the river to Egham, where I lived. We spent many a happy day there during the summer, splashing about in a little swimming pool – and for years and years I thought Lammas was another name for a pool.

It was years and years before I realised the name must refer to the area, and appreciated that land once used by the community to produce food and graze livestock was still being used by the community – but for leisure.

When I looked on the Internet, I found the site is still recreational, and there is a local soccer team called The Lammas, as well as a Lammas Band, so the link with the past continues.

There are similar sites elsewhere in the country – someone told me of one in Cambridge, while Lammas lands were among the areas cleared to make way for the London Olympics site, which provoked as much anger as the historic enclosure of common land.

Exeter maintains tradition with an annual Lammas fair, as does Ballycastle, in Ireland, and some churches have re-introduced Lammas services.

I marked the occasions by making bread (in the breadmaker, not by hand). But the yeast was old, and I didn’t have enough bread flour, so I used ordinary flour, and the result was not one of my greatest culinary successes, but it will make nice toast.

And I can always let it go stale, crumble it, then strew it around the garden, shed and mini-greenhouse to bring fortune in the year ahead.

Pictured below is a picture I found on the web of Staines Lammas swimming and paddling pool as it was when I was a child. There was a swimmin area in the river as well.(http://middx.net/photopost/showphoto.php/photo/15190)