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

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Advent 7: Skating

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Skating in Salzburg © Southampton Old Lady

p1180637Ice Skating is always associated with Christmas in Britain. Artificial rinks are put up in nearby towns as it is never usually the right temperature, especially where I live in the South, to have natural ones.

The winter of 1962–1963 (also known as the Big Freeze of 1963) was one of the coldest winters on record in the United Kingdom. Temperatures plummeted and lakes and rivers began to freeze over.

I had a pair of second-hand ice-skates given to me for Christmas then. I used to go to the Bannister Ice Rink, near The Common in Southampton with my sister. I remember that the pavements and roads were so iced up that I skated on them all the three miles home to the Newtown area.

The Hobbits of my Shire

p1180483Here are the Tribes from which I hail

The Hobbits of my Shire

The re-users, repairers, recyclers

Savers from landfill that fields may flourish

Salts of the earth dwellers

Early birds who catch the worm

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Out in the cold

Fuelled by hunger to over-indulge

in all things merry

Dancers happy in simplicity

Comedians cut by teachers’ sarcasm

attended no classes –

they’re a class of their own

 

p1180481 The JAM tomorrows who live for today

True to themselves and trusting of none

Proud on their pins –

not scrounging welfare but scavenging bins

Disregarded regarders of the discarded

p1180484Magic menders of pre-loved dreams

Lorries full of broken treasures

Carpenters, seamsters and craft-sellers

musicians, poets and storytellers –

The talented that globalisation never minds

but we will sorely miss

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Inspired by a village auction in the New Forest, Hampshire

November 2016 © Southampton Old Lady

Cannibals at Sea & the Real Richard Parker

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For my local Halloween story I would like to tell you about the real story of Richard Parker. An unfortunate cabin boy who sailed from Southampton at the tender age of 16 only to be eaten by his crew.

In Southampton’s Peartree Churchyard lies an unusual gravestone…

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The newer stone in Peartree Southampton which combines the grave of Sarah Parker and the memorial to her son Richard Parker – the victim of cannibalism at sea

It is the combined stone which marks the grave of Sarah Parker and the memorial of her beloved son Richard Parker, who had reached the age of 17 by the time he became the victim of cannibalism at sea.

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Richard Parker was killed and eaten by Tom Dudley and Edwin Stephens to prevent starvation Regina versus Dudley and Stephens (1884) established the precedent that necessity is no defence against a charge of murder Concerning survival cannibalism following a shipwreck the case overturned the folklore of the Custom of the Sea

Richard Parker served on the English yacht Mignonette, which set sail for Sydney, Australia from Southampton, England in 1884. While in the South Atlantic, the Mignonette sank, leaving Parker and his three shipmates in a lifeboat. Dying of thirst Richard fell into a coma after drinking sea water. As the crew thought he was going to die anyway, they killed the boy to drink his blood, then ate him so that they could survive. There had been many similar cases like this up until that time, which were given over to sympathy from seafarers, even those in Richard Parker’s own family in Southampton. It had been regarded legally as “A Custom of the Sea”.

The surviving three were rescued after 24 days by the German sailing barque Montezuma, named fittingly enough  after the Aztec king who practiced ritual cannibalism.

But this case caused a great uproar in Victorian Britain. The men were charged with murder and were found guilty. Although not much was done about the prisoners even when their sentences were later reduced to six months hard labour. Most importantly, their trial, R v Dudley and Stephens established a legal precedent in common law around the world, that: ‘Necessity is no defence to a charge of murder’. It is one of the first cases that law students read about.

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The original memorial to Richard Parker which reads: Sacred to the memory of Richard Parker, aged 17, who died at sea July 25th 1884 after nineteen days dreadful suffering in an open boat in the tropics having been wrecked in the yacht Mignonette.’ Though he slay me yet will I trust in Him. Job 15 v 15 Lay not this sin to their charge. Acts vii6

If you haven’t read Yann Martel’s Booker Prize novel about the Life of Pi then you may have seen the ®Oscar-winning movie of the same name directed by Ang Lee.

The narrator is a novelist who has been recommended to interview an Indian man named Piscine Molitor Patel, as his life-story will make him “believe in God”.

Pi’s story is how at 16 he survives a shipwreck in which his family and the zoo of animals they are transporting to Canada, all die, apart from him and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker who he ends up sharing a lifeboat with.

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Booker Prize novel ‘Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel

In the novel the tiger who arrived at their zoo was called Thirsty but got mixed up on the list with the hunter’s name – Richard Parker. The novel is an allegorical one about man’s battle between his animal instincts and his religious ones. Pi has been brought up a vegetarian and does not even eat fish.

By a great nautical coincidence, the name of Martel’s tiger, Richard Parker, was also inspired by a character in Edgar Allan Poe’s nautical adventure novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838). In Poe’s book, Richard Parker is a cabin boy who is stranded and eventually the victim of cannibalism on a lifeboat. There is a dog aboard who is named Tiger.

A third Richard Parker drowned in the sinking of the Francis Speight in 1846, described by author Jack London, and later a cabin boy was cannibalized.

Yann Martel said: “So many victimized Richard Parkers had to mean something. My tiger found his name. He’s a victim, too – or is he?”

The Mignonette yacht sketched by Dudley
The Mignonette yacht sketched by Dudley

For most who have never had starvation forced upon us it must be difficult to imagine how this could happen. One can only receive clues from behaviours in the animal kingdom.

There have also been three plays written about Richard Parker  –   ‘Richard Parker’ by Owen Thomas, ‘Mr Parker’s Bones, or The Strange, Lamentable, Bloody, and mostly true History of Parker of Pear Tree Green and of his Captain, the Dastardly Cannibal Tom’ written by Russ Tunney and more recently The Sad Tale of Richard Parker by Cheryl Butler who also works on historical walking tours of Southampton.

Although there are still many shipwrecks, technology is developing all the time and we are now able to convert sea water into drinking water in minutes. Although still expensive, new materials will soon make it available for common use.

To visit Pear Tree Church and cemetery on Peartree Green by satellite navigation, use the postcode SO19 7GY

Jack London - When God Laughs and other short stories
Jack London – When God Laughs and other short stories

For further interesting links on this story:

Court case: R v Dudley and Stephens 

You Tube video of descendant of Richard Parker

Edgar Allan Poe: Horrific Prediction Haunts my family –  by descendant/psychic Craig Hamilton-Parker

‘The Sad Tale of Richard Parker’ a play by Cheryl Butler

‘Life of Pi’ – Creating ‘Richard Parker’ (Behind the scenes making of the movie)

Itchen Ferry Village Details

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Click on image for details
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Sea Otter emerging from Supermarine Factory before it was bombed

floating bridges southampton

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L.S Lowry painting of the Itchen Ferry, Southampton
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Woolston shore, where we used to wait for the ferry before the Itchen Bridge was built.

Further reading on my post The Woolston Ferry

In response to the weekly WordPress Photo Challenge: Details

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?

Southampton Communities: Indian

The second in my series of the many different cultures that go to make up my city.

Derber room

Kuti's Royal Thai Restaurant

As a significant part of our Southampton population, I would need to write a book to explain all the different groups plus a history of India, which I don’t feel qualified to do.

Definition of Indian

There are many living in Southampton who define themselves as Indian. Indians immigrated here way before the Partition of 1947 that divided their land into India and Pakistan. Many Indians living here have never even lived in India nor been on holiday there. Indians might have settled here from Australia, Fiji or Africa. Many Ugandan Asians, that came as refugees in the 1970s, might define themselves as African Indian. Many Indians have been here for generations and although they might be British-born and fully integrated, define themselves as Indian by their strong culture and historic roots. They might call themselves British Asian, English Indian, British-born Indian, or define themselves by their language Hindu, Gujarati, their region – Punjabi or Keralan for instance or their religion Sikh, Indian Muslim, Jain, Brahman, Indian Buddhist etc. All foreigners who have come to settle in Southampton more recently are referred to as Freshies by the people who have lived here a long time. One usually tries to guess by the clothes worn, from the way trousers are pressed to sweater-styles as to what group they belong to – but this isn’t always a correct assumption. Many who have just arrived from India, are often more western in their dress than people who settled here in the sixties. More often than not it is by their accent.

I shall mention the Pakistani and other communities at a later time but the predominant group in Southampton are Sikhs which make up about 1.3% of our city’s population.

Sikhs

Maharajah Dulip Singh
Maharaja Duleep Singh 1845

In the 2012 census 2799 Sikhs were listed as living in Southampton.

We have to go back to the time when the British colonised India and Prime Minister Disraeli bestowed on Queen Victoria the grandiose title: Empress of India.

The first Sikh to arrive in Southampton was the Maharaja Duleep Singh in 1854. He visited Queen Victoria frequently at her Osborne House residence on the Isle of Wight and she became Godmother to his children. Queen Victoria later commissioned talented Indian architects, particularly Ram Singh, to transform parts of her residence and gardens into a ‘flavour of India’. Today much of Britain has a flavour of India, from our seaside piers to rose gardens – not to mention adopted words in our language and our cuisine, which British call ‘curry’. Southampton is a prime example of this flavour with a beautiful Royal Pier which has been leased to Indian restaurateur Kuti, and spacious parks with tropical plants.

People raised here also greet each other with the phrase Acha Mush – Acha a slang word from hindi for ‘I’m good’ and Mush (of Romany origin, meaning mate) which is now an affectionate slang term for a fellow Sotonian.

royal victoria Hosptial Netley

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Sikh troops recuperating at Netley from injuries sustained in the first world war. Photo thanks: Marion Ivey/The Guardian

Queen Victoria had a large military hospital built in Southampton in response to the Crimean War. This she visited frequently by sailing boat from her Isle of Wight palace. The hospital was later known as Spike Island (the remains of which can still be visited in the Queen Victoria Country Park). In 1894 one entire floor of the main building was given over to Indian troops, one million of whom served in the British Military.

In the hospital grounds, a concrete platform, or ghat, was built at the side of a stream for cremations, after which the ashes would be tipped into the stream and borne back, spiritually, to join the waters of the Ganges.

Gradually Sikhs settled in Southampton from this time in dribs and drabs. Their caste system fit in well with the Victorian class system. It was mainly middle class Indians that arrived in great numbers in the 1950s and sixties to take up work in Southampton law firms or as doctors in the National Health Service. The photos immediately above are of Sikh festivals and two temples (Gurdwaras) in the Bevois Town area of Southampton.

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I have happy childhood memories growing up in a predominantly Indian community. My best friend’s brother married an Indian film star and our street threw out the red carpet, celebrating the wedding for three days and nights. This beautiful celebrity taught me and other children how to dance, Bollywood-style. It is my Indian neighbours I have to thank for opening my eyes to libraries, teaching me to swim, yoga, how to make a perfectly round chapati and the perfect cup of tea.

Further reading:

The Sikhs in Southampton by Ranjeet Singh Shahi

Spike Island – Memory of a Military Hospital by Southampton writer Philip Hoare (Harper Collins paperback)

Corrections: I do not profess to be an expert on the cultures that make up my City. I am happy to take any corrections or additions to my posts.

If you read General G Tony’s comment, you will realise that I have had to adjust my post. I assumed that British piers were influenced by Indian architecture. I have been informed now that they were more influenced by Versailles in a Rococo fashion. However the Prince Regent was a great fan in of Indian architecture and he himself influenced our seaside culture.

 

 

Southampton, Polish Capital of Britain

Southampton Communities: Polish

I have been meaning to do a series of all the wonderful different cultures that make up the people of my City for some time. With so many xenophobic comments about immigrants during the EU Referendum, I think this is long overdue.

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According to the statistics of the Literary Association of the Friends of Poland, the first Polish refugees to Britain numbered just over 460 in 1851 and over 200 left the country.  At that time the general number of Polish refugees numbered about 800 people. The refugees from Turkey came to different English ports: Liverpool, Leeds and Southampton. Many of them decided to emigrate to US. There were further waves before WW2, in the fifties and in the early noughties. Polish immigrants now make up 10 per cent of the population of Southampton.

This programme was made for Channel 5 in 2014 when the biggest influx of Polish where celebrating 10 years of living in Southampton.

As well as the changes mentioned in the film clip, some of the changes I have noticed are the Catholic churches being full again on Sundays, family picnics along the rivers and on the common (something I haven’t seen since the sixties) and a great respect for the elderly – something I think the traditional English could learn from.