Back to our roots 5

Return to our roots (5)

Or more accurately, return to our root vegetables.

     We've been back in Lancashire nearly three years.

     There have been ups and downs. Far more ups actually, but we find that the more we put in the more we get out, literally and figuratively.

     One thing's for sure, there's no need for inertia, there really is lots to do.

     For starters, there are plenty of events. Last week Littleborough brass band played in the park. Something like this is brilliant for the sloths among us because we don't have to do anything, just turn up, sit and listen. It was part of a 'Poppy River' event. Poppies are of course symbolic of the great war but people were invited to place a poppy in memory of a loved one from whichever conflict. The red river flowed down the hill in the park from the children's playground, it continued past the bandstand and on into no-man's land beyond. Quite a sight it was too. The band played a wonderfully tailored version of the last post and over a hundred people said a personal prayer in the late summer sunshine. Following this poignant interlude the band sparked up and played all manner of wonderful stuff.

     Our return from a bohemian (with a bit of imagination) lifestyle to live in the hassle and frazzle of a modern world was an initial shock for us. A challenge to which we rose with our usual haphazard approach. Basically ignore what we can't change and trust to fate.

     Bills and invoices landed on the mat with alarming regularity. Those that weren't chewed by the dog had to be settled. In order to settle them we had to work. But where does a nearly sixty-year-old git find gainful employment? There was some cash coming in from the books I'd written but not enough to satisfy the blizzard of demands.

     I've had no formal training but I'm OK with my hands. I've kitted out three boats but unfortunately demand for canal boats was limited in central Littleborough. For some reason not many people want cassette toilets, three kilowatt inverters or marinised diesel engines. Folk are more concerned with getting their gardening or decorating done for as little as possible.

     But I made a bit here and there. I did some work for friends, then strangers and soon had as much as I could cope with. One thing I do enjoy is meeting the folk I work for. Some are a bit nervous at first, after all I'm untried and untrusted. Why wouldn't be wary of a short chap with (badly) designer stubble and ill-fitting pants held up with chunky braces. One thing perhaps in my favour is my age. I'm perceived perhaps to be an upright citizen (although you'd question that after a day's work when I'm found flat out trying to re-organize various muscle groups). Also I'm a local lad so can chat about the old days. This is rather fun because both me and my 'customers' are of a disposition where we've forgotten more than we remember. In fact sometimes it's a voyage of discovery where we disinter buried memories long confined to a musty bottom draw.

     A couple of weeks ago I built a trellis for a lady. She lives in a house I used to visit fifty years ago. I'd go there to play with the children of someone who used to work with my Dad. Between us we pieced together fragments of then and now. It was all quite a pleasant coincidence but neither of us could remember the names of the children, just that at least one of them had ginger hair.


     It's like building a 3-D jigsaw where individual pieces are spread over both acreage and time. The nice thing is that the puzzle will never be finished, there is always something else to learn, another piece to fit.

     Then there's the health, irregularities of which were uncovered during an old git's MOT. Everybody my age will have one complaint or other. This point in life seems to creep up and I'm sure I'm not alone pondering what more we might have done with our time. Or perhaps, just as importantly, what things we'd have been better off not doing. At the end of the day it is pretty irrelevant, we are where we are. For now I'm thankful that I can work and walk and write.

     So, using two of those attributes, I walked to two local events yesterday and am now writing about them. Firstly a heritage event celebrating Littleborough's special women. My wife spent the weekend, in the company of three friends, dressed as suffragettes variously waving a placards and demanding the vote. Mind you she had put our dinner in the slow cooker before she went out.

     It's surprising who you bump into. In a house in a town in the foothills of the Pennines I had a chat with a couple from Newcastle (upon Tyne) who were staying in their caravan on a small site near Sowerby Bridge. They must have entered, 'Women, downtrodden and desperate' into an internet search engine and come up with Hare Hill House, Littleborough. Quite whether they'd expected to get tangled up with a hoard of noisy women in fancy dress, is anyone's guess. But their alternative this particular Sunday morning was the Great North Run in their home town. 'Not likely,' the chap said.

     One of the women celebrated was midwife to Littleborough from around 1930. Ivy Ellis was little short of a heroine to many local families. Roughly twenty years before the NHS was formed, she would have battled all weather to help expectant Mums, sometimes arriving on horse and cart. With little more than a few towels, warm water and a fire in the grate, many local folk made their entrance. Through a relative we had access to her photograph album. Photos of some fifty babies over twenty years are displayed during this heritage celebration. Many of the names are familiar and some of the tots of yesteryear will be the forebears of today's generation.

     The second event was the Hare Hill Allotment show. I've actually done a fair amount of work one way or another around the allotments, building sheds and fences for example, even a chicken run, so was keen to show my support for a healthy and popular activity. I've seen many workers upended in the undergrowth, tending their crops, so I was interested to see the results.

It was being held in Littleborough Coach House and Heritage Centre, which according to the blurb 'is a Grade 2 Listed building of architectural and historical interest within an important conservation area. Dating from the late 18th century, it was originally built to serve the Bury horse-drawn coach traffic on the main transport routes into Yorkshire across Blackstone Edge'.   

     The first thing of note is that the show is upstairs, rather unkind on the exhibitors who had to lump their wares up a floor - some of the fruit and veg on display was of considerable size. There is a lift mind, but I ignore it and stagger up the stairs, keen to demonstrate my physical prowess. I arrive at the registration desk in a state of some distress.


     I am immediately relieved of a pound (the official visitor's entry fee) by the daughter-in-law of the man who used to help us in our garden forty years ago. He was called Philpott – a splendid name for a gardener, just as he was a splendid, gentle man. Barely has my coin landed in the re-cycled ice-cream carton, than I am relieved of a further pound for the raffle. I can win a tempting basket of delicacies, a large proportion of which have come from the Coop. This seems rather incongruous when there is so much fresh produce not ten feet away in the display hall.

     'Right, thank you,' I say, and set off to the right, towards the exhibits. This is the familiar direction my wife and I have taken on a number of occasions when we have given our slide-show talks to various local groups. But I am thwarted.......

     'This way please.' 

     I am herded to the left. Towards the tombola where I am relived of another pound by the grand-daughter of the daughter-in-law of the man who used to help us in our garden forty years ago. So I can add another piece to our local jigsaw. She is a polite, bright young thing who has been carefully schooled in the art of relieving pounds from passing vegetable enthusiasts. Who can resist a pretty smile and a table full of goodies?

     I'm not normally lucky with tombolas but today I win. But I don't win a 'goody', I win a spiky plant in a paper cup called a septum (or something similar). My wife, I am sure, will be overwhelmed by my good fortune.

     At last, I'm in. Three room-long tables bear the fruits of the allotmenteers labours. Impressive they are too. Pumpkins, onions, carrots, raspberries, apples, etc. There's even embroidery, an activity probably undertaken when the weather is unsuitable for weeding. Some examples of the fruit and veg are enormous and all of it look fresh-from-the-sod healthy. If stuff this size was sold in supermarkets they would need a chiropractor on stand-by in the car park.

     A friend of mine and her associate are loitering.

     The associate persuades me to partake of the gardening quiz. Another pound – 'only'. I had taken the precaution of calling at the hole-in-the-wall en route from the suffragettes. Good job because I could easily have been financially embarrassed.

     I could answer so few quiz questions it was hardly worth me borrowing a pen. I only got two correct for certain. One was, 'who was Bill and Ben's friend in the 1960s TV show' and the other was a photograph of something that I identified, described as, 'a shell-less terrestrial gastropod mollusc'. Weed and slug were my correct answers – which rather gives you a clue as to my gardening capabilities.

     There was just time for me to be relieved of a further two pounds for some delicious-looking tomatoes and green beans.

     To be fair, I potentially have something to show for all the money I've invested. Invested note, in the allotment development council's new initiative under the slogan, 'Investing for the Fruiture'.

     Appalling puns aside, I won a prickly thing on the tombola, I might win the raffle, I might win the quiz (though that is unlikely, unless nobody else enters) and I have some lovely produce. I include the entry fee here because I have enjoyed chatting, looking and admiring.

     Most important of all I have joined in. There really is no excuse for 'having nothing to do' or being bored or lonely. There are all sorts of things to get involved with, new folks to meet, activities to try and jigsaws to complete.


     Community - it's what small towns like Littleborough thrive on, have done for centuries. Ours seems to be doing very nicely thank you.

Jo May © 2018