Saturday, 12 January 2019

Spinning a few 45s

Welcome to 2019. Looks like it could be a bumpy ride. Maybe it's the prospects for that which have kept me awake the last two nights. I'm very groggy and heavy-legged as I park the car by St. Mary's Weekley on a sparkling morning and climb the stile onto still-frosty grass in the field beside the wall of the Boughton Estate. On the far side of the wall the Boughton Herd, black and dun and perhaps 200 strong, munch contentedly, most of them, as animals do, feeding with their bottoms facing the chilly prevailing wind of the day. One or two raise their heads and sniff suspiciously in my direction, although I'm a couple of hundred metres distant and separated from them by twelve feet of brick.

 When I'm awake at night I try to use the wee-small-hours telly to bore me back to slumber. Last night a lamentable documentary eventually did the trick. Someone thought that sending sixties' electric folkie Donovan back to the Indian ashram he once shared with The Beatles would be a great idea. Wrong. Donovan now looks as if he's being played by Nigel Planer, and his singing isn't much better than Planer's would be. Maybe it was a spoof, and it really was Nigel Planer. The claims made for the transcendental spirituality of Hurdy Gurdy Man were frankly ridiculous, and the now deserted and ruined ashram looked sad. However meditation has kept Donovan and his wife together over many decades, and there were some useful nods at the concept of 'letting go'. I know how tightly I cling to the past. What will we have to 'let go' as individuals, as a nation, as a Church, in the next twelve months? (see my comments in this blog after the Vote of June 2016).  I'm properly fearful.

The curse of the mobile phone. I receive some potentially hurtful news from a client as I walk on towards Geddington on the bridleway, and although it was brilliantly sunny as I left Weekley, there's a cloud over my spirit as well as the village when I pitch up in Geddington's main street. However there's enough about this place to distract and restore perspective. We used to whizz past on the old A43, the Stamford road long ago diverted to avoid the river crossing with its lengthy ford, but I've never actually stopped to look. I watch as a Ford Transit justifies its name by successfully ploughing through the Ise's waters, smug satisfaction on the driver's face at completing this permitted transgression. Our Polo could just about squeeze between the guardian posts on the lovely old bridge beside the ford, though at risk to its wing mirrors. There are two pubs still open, a hairdresser's, and a Post Office which sports an ancient sign promising customers the delights of 'confectionary' (sic). Geddington is a sizeable village still, and St. Mary Magdalene's church is an impressive building. As of February 3rd they'll have a new Priest-in-Charge, Gillian Gamble. And every time she walks up the church path, she'll pass the best of the surviving original 'Eleanor Crosses'. (There are two others - at Hardingstone and Waltham Abbey. The one at London's Charing Cross is a replica.) You know the story - one of the most touching memorials to love. Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward the First, died in 1290 at the age of 49. The marriage may have once been in the service of Franco-English diplomacy, but it became one of deep affection, and when she passed away near Lincoln, the bereft King ordered that crosses be erected at every one of the twelve places the cortege stopped on its progress back to London. Most of them have gone now, but here three statues of Eleanor still gaze down somewhat sepulchrally on passers-by. I drop into bright, cheerful Oak CafĂ© for a coffee and lemon drizzle cake, served by Linda. Bernie, the owner is labouring away at the back, preparing sandwiches. I'm the only customer on a late Wednesday morning, but January's a funny time, as someone was saying on the morning radio about retail in Stockport. People don't want to go out to shop when it's cold.

This Saturday (12th Jan) there's to be a 'Twelfth Night Wassail Party' in the village. It says so in the church porch. Am I being too sensitive in complaining that society has become so secular it now thinks 'Twelfth Night' refers to the New Year and not Christmas? Happy Holidays everyone!

I walk the lane out of the village to the west, passed by snorting forty-tonners squeezing their way through the parked cars, and pick up the bridleway which twists and turns up a mild gradient until Little Oakley appears below me, nestled down into a hollow as a Cotswold village might be. A pair of red kites, each with perhaps a metre of wing span, circle and plummet, the A10 tankbusters of the ornithological world, but not so well camouflaged against the winter sky, beautiful russet, black and white. Little Oakley is empty of people, and the church, without a sign, its windows invaded by ivy, its porch clagged by leaves and mast, looks almost as sad as a sixties' Indian ashram. Later I find that in 2016 there was an application to turn the thirteenth century church of St. Peter into a three-bedroom dwelling, but whether that's been taken further since then I can't find out. At the time the Northamptonshire Telegraph commented that 'eerily' the future householders would have to live 'surrounded by gravestones' because they wouldn't be able to have title to the churchyard. Go figure. What should they be allowed to do? Grub up the headstones and replace them with decking and barbecues? I'd have thought any self-respecting thirty-something Goths would love the Doomy vibe. There are snowdrops already showing by the church wall, and I'll take that as a sign that Little Oakley's church will find good use soon. Spring flowers are much further forward than last year. There were even some primroses visible round the sheltered sides of the moat at Wells Cathedral last week.

                    Little Oakley: 'nestled down into a hollow as a Cotswold village might be'

I follow the stream across the fields towards Great Oakley. In a mile the path crosses under first the by-pass for the original Geddington by-pass, if you follow me, and then the railway line from Kettering to Corby and on to Oakham, a service that's expanding with time. Corby used to be exceptionally ill-served by the railway, perhaps on the basis that no true Scot thought London had anything to offer. Then from 2009 an hourly train was provided, and this may become half-hourly in the next year or so. Accordingly the housing is pushing outwards from Corby into the countryside. The latest claim from Shelter is that we need to build three million houses to meet the supposed shortfall in the stock. Really? That would be an increase of at least one-ninth to the existing national provision, and would assume an ongoing average occupancy per dwelling of not much  more than two people. At a time when there's real poverty out there, it would be nice to see Shelter concentrate on the essentials, and not being slave to political or commercial propaganda, which has more to do with mitigating difficulties elsewhere in the economy. But long-time readers have heard me on this before.

St. Michael's, Great Oakley, is a bit of weird affair, location-wise, sitting a little way out of the old hamlet, and stiflingly close to the 'Big House', but their self-description on achurchnearyou looks promising and maybe the gracious setting is a selling point for those wanting an escape from deeply urban Corby and its surrounds. Our national Church's buildings are such a marketing and emotional asset, and the more ancient, the better, if we can keep them well-maintained. I was inside Moulton's parish church a few weeks ago, and its refurbishment is a model of what can be achieved, comfortable and warm, multi-purpose without doing violence to the core architecture. Dealing with the gritty problems of everyday twenty-first century living is all very well, and some town centre churches do a fantastic job among the poor and needy, but it can be very hard to develop a sense of the numinous on a housing estate or in a shopping mall, sometimes requiring a refined, poetic nose for metaphor.

I pick my way across the parkland of the Great Oakley estate, and though I can negotiate my way back under the soon-to-be-electrified railway, the path diverts annoyingly back to a road bridge to cross high over the dual carriageway. At first I'm puzzled by some notices pinned to the railings beside me and assume they're romantic notes - the equivalents of the keys often hung  on continental river bridges. With a shock I realise the notes have a serious, sadder purpose, intended to make any potential 'jumpers' think twice before killing themselves. Do the notes originate in personal experience, or are they just for the greater good?

I give up walking to Newton off-road (the path is now three sides of a rectangle) and dodge cars and litter up the lane instead. First I see a London Records single of Bobby Vee's Take good care of my baby' lying on the verge, but it's scratched and anyway my first girlfriend Rosemary always preferred John Leyton, so I leave it for the fairies. Then a few hundred metres on I see Eddie Harris's (who?) 'Boogie Woogie Bossa Nova' (dented and broken), and then a quarter mile after that, Johnny and the Hurricanes ( now we're talking!) 'Down Yonder'. But the distribution of these ancient platters of plastic makes it clear that someone has deliberately 'sown' them from an open car window in some drug crazed anti-sixties revenge trip. Or perhaps it wasn't drugs but alcohol. Or just an extreme excess of caffeine. How else to account for the innumerable cans of Special Brew, Irn Bru, Red Bull and Coke also adorning the roadside? Much further on I stumble over Charlene's late seventies regrettable hit 'I've never been to me'. Enough already.

                                                   'Watching you?'  Evidently not.

Strolling into the little settlement of Newton brings to mind 'Fig Newton', Rumpole of the Bailey's occasional preferred private investigator in John Mortimer's amusing stories of barrister life. A 'fig newton' is a trademarked biscuit variant on a fig roll, but Rumpole's 'Fig' is nicknamed from his initials. The Northamptonshire Newton is sometimes known as 'Newton-in-the-Willows' from its proximity to the River Ise. The one time St. Faith's church is now a Field Studies Centre and there's a little nature reserve close to its front door. But in this lovely setting there are dark memories. In 1607 the local peasants rose up against enclosures. 47 of them were killed, often hung, drawn and quartered, pour decourager les autres. At its outset, the revolt was led by John Reynolds from Desborough, known as 'Captain Pouch' from the wallet that always hung at his side. He told the rebels no harm would come to them because of the pouch's contents: he carried authority from God and the King. The villains of the piece locally were the Tresham family who were vying with the Montagus of Boughton for control of land around Rockingham Forest. As they grabbed territory, hedging and ditching it, the rebels fought back by tearing down the planting and filling the dykes. A thousand people gathered in pitched battle at Newton in June 1607, but only one side was ever going to win. Reynold's pouch was found to contain nothing but mouldy cheese, and he was hanged, of course. The Montagu family went on by marriage to become the Buccleuchs. They still have vast holdings of land throughout Britain. The notice by the right of way at Weekley on the Boughton Estate tells me I must keep strictly to the path, with the implied threat that shooting is always in progress close by.

Pieces on the board:  18 km. 5.5. hrs. 5 degrees C. Early sun, then cloud and the possibility of a shower, clearing towards dusk with a beautiful sunset. A chilly breeze at times. Going: yielding and soft, though not claggy on the fields; firm and good on the tracks: little or no precipitation over the last fortnight. Four churches visited. Two still in use as places of worship. None open. 5 stiles. 27 gates. 2 bridges. 1 ford.

God, my God
Father and Mother
From your viewpoint
Wherever that is
Above our creaturely existence
Warp and weft of all that is
Seen and unseen,
Tell me
Whose side should I be on?
John Reynolds or the landowners?
And now if it isn't impertinent,
the more difficult ones.
Those fascists outside Parliament.
The make believe 'gilets jaunes'.
What if they appear in Northampton?
Do I sit idly by?
And what should my stance be
If some exploit the food banks
And then some politicians
Exploit their exploitation
For oppressive ends?
Should I be a doormat
Endure in silence
Let the chips fall where they will?
Lord, prevent us in all our doings.
Guide us, guard us, keep us, feed us.

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