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

Advent 10: Peace on the Horizon

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Christmas is a very peaceful time in the neighbourhood where I am. Mainly because there is a big exodus of students and people who visit relatives in other countries leaving just about a quarter of the crowded streets. Sometimes I feel like I have God’s earth all to myself.

All photos © Southampton Old Lady

Also in response to the Weekly WordPress Challenge: Horizon

Advent 5: Christmas Tree

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Fir tree © Southampton Old Lady

The decoration of Christmas trees were brought to Britain from Germany as early as the 1790s. Trees were generally displayed on tables in pots, with gifts placed unwrapped underneath. The tree was decorated with wax candles, baskets of sweets, flags and little ornaments and gifts. The imported German Springelbaum was the tree of choice until the 1880s, at which time the home-grown Norway Spruce became available. This made a larger tree more affordable, and people began placing trees on the floor.

Advent 3: Home for Christmas

 

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Breakfast in bed © Southampton Old Lady

It is a great time to relax when you go home for Christmas. I love spoiling my daughter. However some people have no homes to go to…

Southampton homeless in doorway
It is estimated that 117,000 children will be homeless in the UK this Christmas. London, Manchester and other cities and especially warmer cities in the South also have high numbers of rough sleepers that are difficult to calculate.    Photo of homeless sleeping in the City of Southampton © Southampton Old Lady

It has been very frosty in the UK and weather forecasters are predicting a white Christmas this year, which is no fun for those who have nowhere to go and are sleeping rough. Why not make a gift of a night in a homeless shelter or buy a Christmas dinner for someone homeless this year?

It is estimated that 117,000 children will be homeless in the UK this Christmas

For homeless young people who have run away to London there is Centre Point’s Home For Christmas appeal – click here

In my area the Society of St James organises such for the homeless click here

Or there is Crisis at Christmas click here

There must be many organisations in your area that you can help: A home is where the heart is.

Also in response to this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: Relax

 

Pothole Gallery Challenge

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Pothole on a main road into the City of Southampton – still to be repaired
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Pothole in Bevois Town, Southampton

Shoreacres has given me an idea for a challenge. After a chat about potholes she commented: “I can’t imagine any place in the world is boring, if only we take the time to explore it. For example: how about a gallery of potholes?”

So without further ado: here my potholes photos!

If you would like to join in, post your photos of potholes from your post just include a pingback to this post.

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Same pothole with glove to show size – those stones are big and shoot out when a car passes. Now repaired after much complaining.
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Broken manhole cover Portswood Road – now repaired.

Now the next one is not my photo but published in the daily echo last year:

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A sink-hole has opened up on the A27 Titchfield Bypass. Police are now looking in to it

City Street Chaos

I have two entries concerning wasted public money for the weekly WordPress challenge: Chaos

Southampton City Centre's uneven pavements cause chaos.
Southampton City Centre’s uneven pavements cause chaos.

Southampton City Council spent £4.6million revamping the civic centre’s main square and pavements which was completed in 2010. But just 18 months after a private contractor completed it (with no expert investigation) large parts of the road began to sink, leaving its surface uneven and cracked.

I don’t know how many times I have fallen over in the City myself – it’s no good just looking where I am going as the shadows create optical illusions, it would be easier to walk on gravel or loose earth. So many have been hospitalised and had their lives ruined. It is cheaper for the Council if pedestrians, cyclists and drivers to claim compensation for their injuries from the contractor than have the street repaired. I think coloured Tarmac would have been a better option for the street and was even better left as it was. Cutting corners always works out more expensive and money always seems to come before people.


The back of Old Northam Road, Southampton
The back of Old Northam Road, Southampton

The street where the Developer has run off with the cash

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Resotoration of Old Northam Road

Southampton City Council granted £1.4 million of public money to Grays Developments in the early 2000s to refurbish Victorian properties in Old Northam Road. This was to regenerate what was once the antiques quarter of Southampton, England.

The man who owns Grays, bought up 30 commercial properties and 68 homes within Old Northam Road had promised to invest millions restoring them within 13 years.

So far there has only been ripping down and dilapidation. No work has actually started, leaving residents and businesses in chaos. Some who lived above shops have had walls to their property removed and just left.

The traders insist that he has spent the money on a house for his mother and ran off with the rest of the cash. Here is a YouTube video of promises from the project manager: Restoration of Old Northam Road