Saturday, October 11, 2008

This week...

Latin class. We hit the ground running. The classes' collective bums have not had the opportunity to settle comfortably into the classes' seats before questions of declensions, conjugations and the minutiae of grammar are fired at us. My pea-sized brain finds recalling English grammar difficult enough so tackling the nominative, accusative, genative, dative and ablative in another language is challenging. We aim to be able to read some Medieval Latin at the end of this 8 week course. If turning Latin sentences into English ones were not enough we need also to read the script - so some paleography is involved too. And then, after we've translated the words and deciphered the text, we must understand the quirky code of symbols and abbreviations that contemporary writers used. I'm not sure if 8 weeks will be time enough but I relish the challenge.

First up I lose a chicken to the fox so in addition to the one that hopped off its mortal coil on Sunday due to a mystery ailment I am now 2 birds down. Grr. Keeping my little flock safe in the future will now involve buying electric fencing at great expense. A rough calculation shows each hen will probably have to lay in excess of 300 eggs before I even approach break-even. I'm a bit fed up with economics at the moment.

It's the night of the WI programme planning meeting. Only 6 of us forgather in the local pub to see what we can put together for the next 12 months. It's the same recipe as forever I think; a health thing, a hands-on thing, some history, cooking, travel, a visit here and a visit there. It will be interesting but the same old, same old. Yawn?

We're in the comfort zone here - no challenges but hardly the stuff to set the world on fire either. How on earth will this organisation ever attract the new members it needs to survive? If there is anyone out there who might join a group - what would you like to listen to/take part in at a monthly meeting? Serious question - I really would like to know.

Anyway, as we deliberate around our table my eye is caught by the couple - she's potential WI material - sitting on the couch over there in front of the pub's wood burning stove. It's hard to avoid them actually. They're not youngsters - probably in their 30's but they're snogging. Really loved up. A mixture of intertwined arms, legs and lips - there is no one else in their world. Probably not a good time to ask if she'd like to join our group....

Here's the bit which is probably too much information - Sweet memories of snogging in the hollows of the very saggy couch in the residents 'lounge' of the White Lion in Banbury, but reading Baudelaire too and drinkingsweetMartinieatingchicken'n'mushroompie. No one else in our world. No names, no pack drill. Happy days.

And I wouldn't have wanted to join the WI then either.

To the hills across the flat Rea Valley and an afternoon with blogging friends in Snailbeach.

What a fantastically strange place this is, especially on a dank autumnal day. Actually to call it dank is a tad untrue - we were blessed with clear blue skies which lit up leaves, hips and haws. Whatever. We're in a post-industrial landscape. The mines here produced, at the height of production, the largest quantity of lead in Europe but since their decline in the dying years of the 19th century the landscape has reclaimed its own.

Those lumps and bumps you see may be spoil heaps or a tumble-down settlement. The Shropshire Mines Trust has the industrial buildings and the mines themselves in its care and have worked to safe-guard this local history for future generations. The village itself, clinging to the hillside, is a mix of old and new. Incongruous executive homes have been built as infill on plots here and there and they dwarf the little worker's cottages that remain. I never entirely escape the feeling that here the 'old ways' are just beneath the surface - maybe one day a year a mist rolls in and the past comes to life again.

I'm interested in the lives of the common man - and woman. What was it like to be alive then? Curiously shaped patches, plots and pieces are the miners' gardens - if you are shown where to look you may spot a 'root store' where potatoes would be stored for winter use. Boundary hedges have grown into trees. Snailbeach is quiet now - the pulsing of the mighty engines that drove the processing machinery and was the community's heart beat have long been silent - sent for scrap. There's only bird song and our chatter as SBS leads us through the network of lanes that knits this little village together. She points out curiousities as we go: fact and fantasy, faces, places and people - this is my sort of history. We meet sheep and rare wood ants. We stand above the village and are awed by a magnificent view over Shropshire and into Wales and north to the Cheshire plain.

We enjoy a very late lunch around SBS's table. Chatter, gossip and laughter - strangers from blog-world, now friends. Thank you J for a lovely day.

Ah! The Bangers 'n' Mash Supper. More fun in a Village Hall.

First sweep your village hall and remove industrial quantities of crud. Scrub well and curse ineffectual 'caretaker'. Tape over holes around perimeter of floor thus stopping icy draughts whistling up ladies' frocks. Remember that this is yet another fund-raiser to build a new hall so that one day none of this will be necessary.

Set up bar. Panic that there is not enough beer. Buy more. Peel, boil and mash 6lbs of potatoes.

Turn up at hall In Good Time with potatoes to find that at least 70 people are there already.

Take up position behind makeshift bar and assume role as barmaid. I had assumed that my days of being leched over are long gone - but no, there are still lascivious old goats out there. Sad and creepy. Sigh.

Crikey, these people can eat. Food is served school dinner style and a long queue forms quickly. They return to their tables with plates bending with the weight of sausages, beans and mash, eat and then go back for more. Perhaps they need to stoke up before the dancing begins, because when it does they are all on their feet and the hall is shaking. Those in the know share a grimace of concern - the joists which hold the floor up have - shall we say? - seen better days. All is well however and the hall is rockin' to the music of Alan Herbert. And crikey, can these people dance? They're up and on their feet stomping the night away. I reflect that fun isn't the sole preserve of the young. There are few people on the floor, if any, under the age of 40. A conga forms and winds through every room of the hall. It's very surreal. The sense of fun and sheer enjoyment is tangible.

At 12.00 Alan H. plays a smoochy last waltz and the night winds down. It's all over bar the totting up and the debriefing. There seems to be a lot of beer left over.

I make my way home up Marton Hill. There is a thin drizzle falling and a dead badger in the lane. Finally get to bed about 1.30. Sleep. Eventually. The night is very quiet.

Hmm - do nothing. Yes!!

As James Thurber might have said: 'My world and welcome to it...'


Twiglet said...

Loved your blog. No doubt I will mull it over with Wipso when we meet on Monday. Our ancestors worked at The Snailbeach mine.They lived at the Waterwheel where I think the waterwheel worked a pump which ventilated the mine shafts.

Lindsay said...

Regarding the W.I. I was approached by the WI on the second day we moved into this house to attend a lecture on crocheting! I apologise in advance to all handicraft people - I would rather learn something more practical like basic house and car maintenance - mending leaks, oiling things, fixing in rawlplugs etc. Often women find these things difficult especially if suddenly widowed or divorced.

muddyboots said...

what a busy week! sympathize with WI,son busy organizing YFC meetings for coming months. sounds like you had a great day out with the shropshire mob!

snailbeachshepherdess said...

Ha! Only last week you laughed at my discomfiture with a couple of toothless farmers in mid wales and yet here you are at the mercy of lecherous goats...busy week!

Pam said...

What a great week! I wish there was a WI in Columbus - I must investigate.
Why do we peel potatoes? The skin is so nice in mash .......

Wipso said...

Hi. Loved the blog but you didn't give your visit here on Thursday a mention. Your week is busier than you realise hehehe. Thanks for giving Twiglet and me something to chat about on our Mondays. Oh and by the way your jeans are ready for collection. See you soon. A x

Angel said...

Love the new format of your blog! My days seem to merge into each other. Sounds like a great day Thursday-thought about you all.

I think after your week-you deserved to do nothing on Saturday!


elizabethm said...

As ever your bog makes me leap about going, yes, what? how interesting! Medieval Latin? I did A level. All gone now yet somehow not entirely. Would love to recall it but fear it would use the limited brain space now allocated to Welsh.
And the WI! I joined. I want it to thrive but, my God, up here it is an old organisation. The Welsh and the yoga energise me. The WI makes me feel I am ten years older than I am.
Hope you enjoyed thursday. So sorry not to be there.