Advent 19: Mummers, Wassailers and Yulesingers

Blessing the orchard at Manor Farm Country Park, Southampton
Blessing the orchard at Manor Farm Country Park, Southampton

Wassailing, an ancient custom from Saxon times to give blessings of good health over the twelve days of Christmas, is making something of a come-back.

Traditionally, livestock, crops and farm machinery were blessed as well as people. Blessings were taken from door to door. In Scotland and the North of England this is known as First Footing in the New Year.  The Lord of the Manor would give food (figgy pudding) and drink to peasants who worked on his estate in exchange for their blessing and goodwill.

Toasting the apple tree in the literal sense
Toasting the apple tree in the literal sense

P1130610This was the forerunner of carolling – considered too rowdy to be done in church and also the forerunner of trick-or-treating in America, as Halloween was the original New Year’s Eve in the Celtic calendar.

“Love and joy come to you,

And to you your wassail too;

And God bless you and send you

a Happy New Year”

Another example of a carol originating from wassail is “We wish you a Merry Christmas” (see Advent 15)

In the Southern shires of England – apple wassail blessings were to ensure a good crop for cider, especially in Kent which produces the best apples for commercial cider, and in the south-west for Scrumpy.   English writer Thomas Hardy wrote about wassailing in his books and short stories set in Dorset ensuring that the custom has never died out there. The proceedings for apple wassailing are led by a Wassail King through the orchard, toasting trees and pouring cider on the roots:


p1100943 Hampshire Wassail Rhyme:

Stand fast root, bear well top.

Pray God send us a good howling crop

Every twig, apples big. Every bough, apples enow.

Hats full, caps full, Tall quarter, sacks full.

Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

Cider is drunk, songs are sung and drums, sticks, rattles and bells are beaten to drive away bad spirits and encourage the trees to give a good harvest.

Mummers play with St George and Olde Father Christmas
Mummers play with St George and Olde Father Christmas

Mummers plays, about the Good fighting off Evil, are often performed at apple wassails too. These were known throughout the UK and Ireland and were even taken to Newfoundland with The Pilgrim Fathers. Though kept in much of Wales, the festivals elsewhere gave way to Morris dancing in England, sword dancing in Scotland and pantomime (see Advent 8) just about everywhere. Raggedy characters (literally in costumes made from rags) introduce themselves in rhyming couplets:

Policeman Plod: ‘Ello, ‘ello, ello. In comes I, Policeman Plod.

Jack the Sniffer: You’ll never catch me you silly old sod. (He exits)

Betty Bertha: He’s gone off and scarpered all hurt and affronted 

You’ve poked your nose in where it’s not wanted.

Mummer-characters have been Christian crusaders versus Moors, St George (Prince George or King George) and the Dragon, Beelzebub, Dracula, Robin Hood and the Sherif. But secondary characters kept in these plays included Olde Father Christmas and The Fool. These were obviously continued in our pantomimes.

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Dipping toast in the wassail bowl to put on apple tree branches at Manor Farm

Wassail also refers to the spiced-cider punch in the wassail-bowl. There are many recipes, which you can find online, but I use beer (left-over and flat) along with fizzy cider and a small cup of brandy in a slow-cooker. Throw in some brown sugar, the juice and rind of a clementine or two, a squirt of lemon, some apples quartered (pips & stalk removed) and Christmas spices such as ginger, cloves, cardamom and a few sticks of cinnamon. It makes the house smell lovely and is a warm welcome for guests coming in from the cold.

All photos © Southampton Old Lady

Confessions of a Yellow Sticker Shopper

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Sweet and Crunchy Stir Fry tonight, reduced from £1.27 to just 9 pence. © Southampton Old Lady
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Supermarket own brand essentials are cheap. Many products these days taste almost as good and sometimes even better than high-brand labelled foods.

I am a yellow sticker shopper. I haven’t always been. I have been almost rich; I have been almost poor. When I am on a limited budget, I become a strict Budgetarian, surviving on very little money, but eating quite well on a mixture of in-season vegetables and supermarket brand basics, coupled with reduced-price meal packs with yellow stickers because they are at the sell-by or best-before date.

When I was a student, I worked as a waitress for Southampton’s Top Rank Bannister Ballroom in the evenings which included a free burger each shift and weekly cinema tickets.

My College provided cheap lunches during the week; On Saturdays, I would take it turns with five other students to cook a meal for all six of us. I would always look for these yellow-stickerred food packs on the day to decide what we were having and shop late at the vegetable market (Kingsland Square), buying bruised fruit and veg. The menu each weekend was interesting.

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Chicken, chargrilled peppers with Moroccan Style Cous Cous. A healthy take-away Snack Pot reduced from £1.60 to 15 pence. And you don’t even need to do the washing up after.

 

One pot stews and curries were common because they were easy, and anything could be put it them. There was an Italian student who cooked delicious pasta sauces, and once someone made a pie using a tin of dog food (Pedigree Chum) as the filling – which was awful – but I could taste the beneficial added vitamins!

Those were very happy, memorable times and very different to today whereby students seem to live on expensive take-aways delivered to the door.

I hope that with these days of student loans, I can offer this article as advice – “Throw away those pizza delivery leaflets, that bombard your letter-boxes, immediately”.

Once I had a full-time job, I ate whatever I wanted and ate out at restaurants quite often, sometimes three times a week.

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A year after my chemo I went back to work, but after a year or two, chemo brain (which is slang for a cognitive problem following certain types of Cancer and its treatment) came knocking and I was forced to give up working. So I currently have no income. My husband is paying off a £12,000 debt due to a mistake made by the DWP (pensions department) in 2007. So we are currently back to living a thrifty lifestyle.

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My husband often makes our own bread, but we often take advantage of reduced priced bread when we need extra.
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One pint of beer each at The Cowherds pub on Southampton Common – a treat not taken for granted.

We are back to yellow stickers, shopping coupons and free entertainments other than television. By free entertainments, I mean free festivals and walks – local seniors were allowed in free to Southampton Boat Show.  So we went to that last week.

Because we are careful, we are able to treat ourselves to little luxuries, such one pint of beer in a pub or perhaps a discount meal at a restaurant once a month.

My husband was brought up on war rationing, which was really difficult, so he learned many budget cooking skills and how to grow our own vegetables.

Do you have any food shopping confessions?

Unto Cowes and Come Home

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From Shamrock Quay along the River Itchen and under its bridge into Southampton Water

Regular readers will know that I am going to live on a sailing boat  with my husband as we have to move soon. We are selling or giving away worldly goods and doing up an old Maxi 95 sloop.

As it has been 15 years or so since I did any sailing, and pre-cancer/chemo, I thought it best to go on a refresher sailing course with a Royal Yachting Association (RYA) instructor.

Last weekend I got on a run as a team of five of like-minded individuals also honing their skills. We sailed from Shamrock Quay in Southampton to the Isle of Wight, where Cowes Week brought sailing boats from all over the world.

 

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Plain sailing on the Solent

The severe treatment for my Hodgkin Lymphoma left my body and brain somewhat disorientated. I describe my brain as living in a town where a bomb has hit and roads have been blocked off. I have had to find detours and rebuild. I had been having terrible balance problems since the treatment, but following a number of NHS exercises I have not had any accidents for about a year now.

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We anchored just off Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. This was Queen Victoria’s favourite residence and this her own private beach. It opened to the public 2 years ago.

Although I was used to sailing I had been extremely nervous about going out, especially onto the Solent, which requires strength, skill and alertness due to its tides, geographical structure and the many number of different vessels using its channel.

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The marina on the Isle of Wight was busy for Cowes Week and took great skill to moor four abreast

This weekend course really helped me to regain my confidence and sort out what I could remember and what I needed to practice.

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Ready with a slip-line returning to port

I feel brilliant!

Inadequate

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I was surprised but not shocked, to see this Care Quality Commission rating chart posted on the window of my local GP surgery (National Health doctor’s office) with the 80% overall rating: Inadequate.

Responses to the question Are services Safe? and Are services Effective? achieved Inadequate. The only different responses on the whole chart were GOOD for Are Services Caring? And REQUIRES IMPROVEMENT for the question Are Services Responsive? None were regarded as OUTSTANDING.

All the ‘Patient Group’ categories achieved INADEQUATE. Not one single listing was marked otherwise.

Older People – Inadequate

People with long term conditions – Inadequate

Families, children and young people – Inadequate

Working age people (including those recently retired and students) – Inadequate

People whose circumstances may make them vulnerable – Inadequate

People experiencing poor mental health (including people with dementia) – Inadequate

I was informed by staff and patients gossiping at the pharmacy next door that if there are not improvements by this Autumn the surgery would be closed down.

There are no dentists in the area – I travel 25 miles to Bournemouth to see mine. This is the only doctors’ surgery in this densely-populated area for miles. I know there to be five good doctors of different nationalities at this surgery who are all under a lot of pressure.

The reception staff often have a difficult time sorting out priorities in a number of languages and have problems registering the transient numbers of temporary residents here from students to immigrant workers.

The system in place also means that it is near impossible to ever get to see the same doctor twice. The telephone can ring all day trying to get an appointment or even to cancel one. It can be an 8-week wait to get to see a doctor. If it is ‘urgent’ patients need to queue up in all weathers outside for at least half an hour before surgery opens in the morning to make sure they receive one of the ’emergency appointments’ allocated for that day only. This is no easy task for someone who is too ill to go to work, women holding babies crying in pain or people with crutches standing on one leg. Once open, appointment slots are usually filled within 30 minutes and none remain for anyone who can get through by telephone. Though if it is serious you can request a call-back from a doctor who may be able to give advice later in the day by phone. Only one type of emergency can be diagnosed each time – If you happen to have an earache when you have gone in about passing blood, then you have to make another appointment.

Prescriptions and hospital referrals get lost, not to mention whole files, and various bodily fluid samples get too old to be tested with neglect. It is no wonder that people end up going straight to hospital, which I must say are marvellous in Southampton with what they have to cope with.

Contrary to popular belief, the NHS not a free service either, the average working person pays around £8,500 per annum with their compulsory National Health contributions. With the rapid population increase and cuts to social services it is like being thrown back to the early 1900s.

There’s my rant for the day. So. What are doctors’ offices like where you live?

Movember

Christian with moustache in Southampton
Christian with moustache in Southampton

Correct me if I’m wrong readers, but I think that the concept of Movember started in Sydney, Australia in 2004. An amalgamation of Moustache and November, Movember is a concept whereby a moustache is grown for the month of November to highlight men’s health issues. It has caught on throughout Europe now.

Regency-styles for men, including sideburns or beards are especially fashionable where I live in Southern England. I really like them.

Bar tender from The Rockstone Pub
Kiwi, from The Rockstone Pub
These guys are regular contenders at The Rockstone
These guys are regular contenders at The Rockstone

Each year I go to The Rockstone, a pub run by youngsters in Southampton. It holds some ‘jolly’ Beard Off competitions.  By doing so, money is raised for charities dealing with prostate cancer awareness among other issues. They will be celebrating their 4th this month.

The Rockstone Pub holds an annual Beard Off
The Rockstone Pub holds an annual Beard Off
The Lounge Kittens - musicians at The Rockstone
The Lounge Kittens – musicians at The Rockstone

Many pub landlords seem to adorn facial hair these retro-loving days.

Landlord of The Butcher's Hook micro-brewery, Southampton
Landlord of The Butcher’s Hook micro-brewery, Southampton

Stick-on moustaches are usually around in the shops in November for those unable to grow their own – usually children and women.

Stick on moustaches are popular
Stick on moustaches are popular

However in the last few years Movember has even prompted women, prone to excess hair growth for their sex, to grow moustaches and even beards for the month. I think they also look amazing.

Harnaam (above) and Siobhain (below) went on TV to highlight women's hair-growth last year.
Harnaam (above) and Siobhain (below) went on TV to highlight women’s hair-growth last year.

Siobhain-Fletcher

I myself draw on a Duchamp-style line with an eye-brown pencil while looking in the pub mirror, but not until I’ve had a few beers.

Goodwood Gaggers at the Regency Ball
Goodwood Gaggers at the Regency Ball
Tony the actor
Tony the actor, Goodwood Regency Ball
Dave Tart the Poet at East Street Arts Festival, Southampton
Dave Tart the Poet at East Street Arts Festival, Southampton
Seamus the Postie
Seamus the Postie, Southampton
James the boffin
James the boffin, Southampton

 

 

Decaying Old Grandeur 8: Bognor Regis

The run-down Royal Hotel. Usually the title 'Royal' is only attributed if the place has been visited by Royalty, although Bognor was visited, locals say that the hotel was not.
The run-down Royal Hotel. Usually the title ‘Royal’ is only attributed if the place has been visited by Royalty, although Bognor was visited, locals say that the hotel was not.

I just love walking along empty seasides in bad weather — for some reason they just fill me Groins at Bognor Regiswith so much happiness.

We took a 40 minute drive along the South-East coast to Bognor Regis on a visit to some returned British friends we made in Spain. This is a very run-down, small town filled with Georgian and Victorian decaying old grandeur — which I adore.

Bognor is one of the oldest recorded Anglo-Saxon place names in Sussex. In a document of 680 AD it is referred to as Bucgan ora meaning Bucge’s (a female Anglo-Saxon name) shore, or landing place. Bognor Regis was originally named just “Bognor,” being a fishing (and smuggling) village. In the 18th century it was converted into a resort by Sir Richard Hotham who tried in vein to rename it Hothampton.

Groins at Bognor Regis

Fishing Boat, Bognor Regis

Bognor pier

Fresh Fish

Primary painted fish stall roof
Primary painted fish stall roof
Too windy for umbrellas...
Too windy for umbrellas…Bognor Regis Whelk stall
Bubble for The Prisoner. You are being watched
Bubble for The Prisoner. You are being watched!

King George V bestowed the suffix “Regis” (“of the King”) on Bognor in 1929 when his physicians recommended he convalesce there to recover from lung surgery. The King, when pestered with petitions for the town while undergoing his treatment, was said to have uttered the line: “Oh! Bugger Bognor!” — which has never been forgotten.

In 1959 Butlins (who ran affordable holiday camps for the British working classes) opened their resort here. It declined in the 70s but started to make a bit of a come-back this decade with the “staycation” trend to holiday at home. It was hoped that these would be a way out of Dismaland (see my blogs on Banksy’s Dismaland). Seaside resorts are not popular with young adults; many have no wonderful childhood memories of them like us oldies — and prefer music festivals, or active holidays such mountaineering or trampolining in disused Welsh mines. Butlins have launched vintage weekend raves which seem to be gaining in popularity though. Recent immigrants to Blighty, have opted to live near cheaper seaside towns like this, in the South’s warmer climes. Polish shops have started opening up next to ye olde rock shoppes, so the fashion of the British seaside is once again changing.

Bognor horses

High interest rate loan for Dismaland anyone?
High interest rate loan for Dismaland anyone?

Casino, Bognor Regis

Stick-of-rock shop, Bognor Regis
Stick-of-rock shop, Bognor Regis

Amazing People 1: Tamara

1st in a new series of people that I think are amazing…

Tamara Everington is a Haematologist. She works as a doctor for the NHS and is also a researcher.
Tamara Everington is a Haematologist. She works as a doctor for the NHS and is also a researcher.

P1120527Tamara Everington. This wonderful woman saved my life. I am so grateful to her. Everything I do now even writing this blog is all thanks to her. I know she gets paid by the NHS and that there were others on my Cancer team, also dedicated to me staying alive. This was during chemotherapy for Hodgkins Lymphoma and recovery. But I still think she is special and continues to save lives  every single day. Tamara was the first to pinpoint my illness when so many others failed. She took my side when I exercised my patient’s rights. She came in to hospital to check on me at weekends, when she could have been with her family. She spent hours of her free time writing up reports on my clinical trial so that others could benefit. She listens to me, always. She is just amazing.