A Change In The Weather

Can it be only last week that I was writing about hot summer days and uncomfortable sultry nights, sleeping with a fan whirring in the room?

The wind changed on Saturday, and the weather with it. In the course of one day, it went from 32 C to 18 C in Beetley, and the sunshine was replaced by looming clouds and blustery winds. By two in the afternoon, it was dark enough in the house to have to use lights in some rooms, and by eight at night cold enough to require wearing something warm on top.

That has continued since, with rare breaks in the clouds giving some idea of the summer they are concealing from us. Of course, June temperatures of 18-20 C are normal here. It’s just that after the three-day heatwave, they seem rather cold now, and the skies are looking bleak.

It taught me once again just how soon we can become used to something, and just as rapidly miss it when it has gone.

McDonald’s: The Last Bastion Falls

Rutland is the smallest county in England. Only 17 miles long by 18 miles wide, it is land-locked, and has a population of less than 40,000.

It has just two towns of any size, Oakham and Uppingham. The most significant feature of the county is a huge artificial lake, Rutland Water. This is a nature reserve, and an important site for wildlife, especially breeding birds.

But Rutland is also famous for something else. It is the ONLY county in England that does not have a McDonald’s restaurant. The attractive historical streets of Oakham and Uppinham do offer a selection of cafes and restaurants, as well as many privately-owned traditional shops. But no fast-food outlets have ever been allowed to spoil the area.

That might all change, at a local Council meeting this evening. On a site just outside the town of Oakham, the burger giant has requested planning permission to build a 24-hour drive through restaurant. One of the larger types that have been seen here over the past couple of years. The benefits to the community are more than being able to buy some chicken nuggets at two in the morning. In an area of high unemployment, sixty new jobs will be generated, and valuable taxes paid into the local economy by the American company too.

Poorer families in the area will be able to take advantage of ‘meal deals’ and cheaper fast food, without having to drive into neighbouring counties to do so.

The population of Rutland appears to be divided by the issue. Existing cafes and restaurants will undoubtedly suffer, especially in the long term. Rubbish will be generated by thoughtless customers flinging it from car windows, or dumping it around the town. And it is inevitable that other jobs will be lost in eating establishments that cannot compete with the popularity of McDonald’s.

As I type this, it seems likely that the Town Council will approve the application tonight, and building will start. I would not deny that the town needs jobs, or that people should be able to buy a Big Mac if they want one.

But I am sad. Sad that the smallest county in my country, the only one to have never approved a McDonald’s, has finally succumbed to globalisation.

Beetley

Someone recently mentioned that they had only just realised that Beetley was a place, rather than a strange name I had invented for this blog. I have posted photos of Beetley before, and written about this small place too. But for the benefit of those of you new to my blog, here are some more, to give you some idea of this rural location in Eastern England.

Beetley is in the centre of Norfolk, one of the most easterly counties in England.

As well as pig farming, the growing of oil seed rape is popular, and the yellow flowers can be seen all around here in the fields.

The nearest church is the old Methodist church, and as you can see, it is very small.

Old Beetley is now part of the larger village, but retains its own identity.

The opening of a new Scout Hut is big news around here!

At the end of my street is the Gressenhall Museum. It is housed in a former Workhouse, built in the 1830s. It features exhibits about life at the time, as well as having a working farm.
https://www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/gressenhall-farm-and-workhouse

As you can see, it is a real place, albeit a very small one.

Not exactly a tourist destination, but if you are ever in the area, I will be happy to show you around. 🙂

https://beetleypete.com/2012/08/16/beetley-village/

https://beetleypete.com/2016/01/30/a-bright-afternoon-in-beetley/

1928: A Very Different England

(Photos can be enlarged, by clicking on them)

Ten years after the end of WW1, England was a very different place to the country we know today. The photo above shows two girls working in hay fields in Lancashire.

Trafalgar Square, London. Double-decker buses look very different, in 2019. And there are more cars and motorcycles these days too.

The arrival of the RMS Mauretania in Southampton. State-of-the-art luxury sea-travel.

Buying an ice cream, in Cornwall. That hasn’t changed so much, as Kelly’s ice cream is still sold now. The ladies’ fashions are delightful indeed.
I missed my ‘era’.

The iconic red telephone kiosk, and red post box. These are in Oxford, and many are still around today of course.

A look into the past, eleven years before WW2 changed so much here.

Just another ‘Day’

Today is the national day of England, and of our patron saint, St George. It is not a public holiday, and hardly gets noticed, or mentioned. Lost in a sea of days that are better celebrated, like ‘Stroke your cat day’, ‘Eat a doughnut day’, or ‘Arabic transgender literature day’, that’s understandable.

Think of something, and there’s a day for it. Social Media is awash with ‘Days’, but the national day of England avoids the limelight. Irish people everywhere anticipate St Patrick’s Day with relish, and in America, The Fourth of July is the biggest day of the year. However, in England, our ‘stiff upper lips’ prevent us from making a show, letting off fireworks, or dyeing our beer red and white.

So for those of you who didn’t know, and for the few that think it still has any traditional relevance.

HAPPY ST GEORGE’S DAY!

FLAG

Our National Day

This is a re-post from last year. Not only for the benefit of my many new followers, but also to remind us that we no longer celebrate our National Day, in England. We live in a world where so many seemingly pointless ‘Days’ are enthusiastically celebrated; from ‘Stroke A Pet Day’, to ‘Eat Some Chocolate Day’, and many others beloved of the Facebook Generation. Yet some acknowledgement of the long-standing tradition of the 23rd of April is hard to find.

St George’s Day

Today is the 23rd April. That date may have little or no significance to most people, and will pass just like any other day, with little or no fuss. But in England at least, it should count for something different. It is our National Day, though you would be forgiven for not knowing that fact.

Unlike Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, England does little to celebrate its patron saint, or the day named after him. More fuss is made of the fact that it is Shakespeare’s birthday, and the TV companies are pulling out all the stops to celebrate the works of the Bard of Avon. Nothing wrong with that of course, but how about poor old Saint George, and England as a separate nation?

If you were in Ireland (or almost anywhere else) on the 17th March, you could never be unaware that it is Saint Patrick’s Day. ‘The wearing of the green’, some crazy outfits, pubs and bars serving green beer, and many other celebrations, would all bring home the fact that Ireland’s Saint’s Day is celebrated wherever the Irish have a connection.

On 1st March, if you were Welsh, you might well be wearing a leek, listening to the songs of Druids, or watching a male voice choir singing ‘Men of Harlech.’ One thing’s for sure, you would know that it was Saint David’s Day, and no doubt be proud of your Welsh heritage, and separate nationality within the UK. Later in the year, on the 30th of November, Scotland joins in, with Saint Andrew’s Day. Scottish flags flying proudly, special meals, kilts and bagpipes in evidence all over. And since 2006, it is a public holiday in Scotland too.

So what happened in England? Did we just stop caring, or has it all been forgotten? There are some parades, but they are small ones. Some buildings fly the red and white flag of Saint George, but most don’t bother. It is not a public holiday, and very few young people even know that it exists. There is a small website campaigning to get better recognition, but you would be hard pressed to find it mentioned in the mainstream media, let alone celebrated in style. In central London, Trafalgar Square hosts a gathering of Morris Dancers, and a promotion of English food, for the benefit of some bemused tourists to wonder what is going on. The Prime Minister has issued an official message from Downing Street, and a few people are wandering about dressed in the style of 12th century Crusaders.

But we are missing the opportunity to celebrate England as a country in its own right, long before the formation of the UK, or the current union with Scotland, and the six counties of Northern Ireland. I am not a nationalist by nature, but surely we owe it to future generations to make them aware of the culture and heritage of the country that makes up such a large part of the British Isles? Has this country become so diverse, or so steeped in apathy, that such things no longer matter? I sincerely hope not.

Happy Saint George’s Day everyone, from good old England.

A very English conversation

If you live in a big city like London, you rarely even talk to your neighbours, let alone strangers in the street. This wasn’t always the case. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my Mum chatting away to other ladies on a bus. Sometimes, the conductor would join in the conversation, and pretty soon people further away would be twisting around in their seats, hoping to get a word in too. Shopping took forever, as Mum would chat about the same stuff to every shopkeeper, as well as to all the other customers in the shop. I would stand pulling at her sleeve, wondering what the hell they were all going on about.

Some time later, this all changed. And I never really understood why.

By the time I was in my thirties, approaching strangers was considered to be weird. You might get someone at a bus stop ask you, “Have I missed a 29?” But that would be about it. If someone saw you smoking, they might cautiously approach you for a light. Once the cigarette was lit, they walked away. If you needed to ask for directions, then you would generally seek out someone in uniform, like a policeman, or lollipop lady. But never a stranger, and definitely not a woman on her own. I once spent many hours on a long train journey, seated opposite an attractive woman of about the same age as me. We didn’t exchange a word throughout the whole trip. On arrival at a busy London terminus, I decided to do the decent thing, and offered to take her heavy case down from the rack. She looked surprised when I spoke, and curtly replied, “I put it up there, I can get it down.”

Many years later, I was descending a long flight of steps into an underground station. On the opposite side, I spotted a harassed young mum, struggling with a buggy. She was bouncing it and the baby it contained backwards up the steps, trying to keep a hold on her handbag and numerous shopping bags as she did so. I ducked under the rail separating us and grasped the footplate of the buggy, attempting to help her lift it up the steps. She looked alarmed. “Leave me alone please, and take your hands off my pram.” Her voice was raised as she spoke, and people around looked at me as if I was a criminal. I put the buggy back on the step, and returned to my journey.

I had well and truly learned my lesson about modern city life. After that, I spoke to nobody, avoided eye contact, and never once offered to help anyone again.

Then four years ago, I moved here to Norfolk. People started saying hello. Neighbours walked around the front and introduced themselves. Walking along the local High Street in Dereham, everyone nodded, or actually said “Good Morning” as I passed. Staff in shops engaged me in conversation, and even teenagers smiled as they went by. I was perplexed, and unsure what to do. Fifty-odd years of minding my own business was not easy to overturn. Then I got a dog, and it went up a gear. Dog-walkers talk. They don’t just bid you good day, they walk around with you for some time too. They talk about your dog, their dog, other dogs, and things like house prices, and where they used to work, or live. But then you keep meeting the same people. You find out their names, or at least their dog’s name. You begin to refer to people by doggy nicknames. Things like ‘Jenny two-dogs’, or ‘Mrs curly-haired Jack Russell.’ Very soon, it becomes all too apparent that you are running out of things to say. There’s always something fascinating like “I had my car serviced this morning”, or a search for tips on tradesmen, as in “Who services your boiler?”

One thing remains constant though. If in doubt, when all other conversational gambits have been exhausted, you can never go wrong with the weather. No matter how many times you encounter someone in the same week, you can rely on the weather to give you something to talk about. We English are experts at this, it’s in our genes. Never taught, never studied, we just grow up knowing how to talk about anything meteorological. Even something as mundane as rain has limitless options. “It’s raining much harder than yesterday.” “I think it will rain later.” “This rain might stop before dark.” All reliable standbys, and considered to be perfectly acceptable too. The recent heatwave has opened up some rarely heard opportunities for conversational gems of course.

I passed a lady today, on the path by the river. I don’t know her well, but have seen her occasionally, with her small terrier. We once spoke briefly about the mud, and the flooded path. Today, she looked at me, blew out her cheeks, and said “Too hot for me today.” I smiled, then replied “At least anything is better than rain.” Then we continued on our way.

That was a very English conversation, believe me.

St George’s Day

Today is the 23rd April. That date may have little or no significance to most people, and will pass just like any other Saturday, with little or no fuss. But in England at least, it should count for something different. It is our National Day, though you would be forgiven for not knowing that fact.

Unlike Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, England does little to celebrate its patron saint, or the day named after him. More fuss is made of the fact that it is Shakespeare’s birthday, and the TV companies are pulling out all the stops to celebrate the works of the Bard of Avon. Nothing wrong with that of course, but how about poor old Saint George, and England as a separate nation?

If you were in Ireland (or almost anywhere else) on the 17th March, you could never be unaware that it is Saint Patrick’s Day. ‘The wearing of the green’, some crazy outfits, pubs and bars serving green beer, and many other celebrations, would all bring home the fact that Ireland’s saint’s Day is celebrated wherever the Irish have a connection.

On 1st March, if you were Welsh, you might well be wearing a leek, listening to the songs of Druids, or watching a male voice choir singing ‘Men of Harlech.’ One thing’s for sure, you would know that it was Saint David’s Day, and be proud of your Welsh heritage, and separate nationality within the UK. Later in the year, on the 30th of November, Scotland joins in, with Saint Andrew’s day. Scottish flags flying proudly, special meals, and kilts and bagpipes in evidence all over. And since 2006, it is a public holiday in Scotland too.

So what happened in England? Did we just stop caring, or has it all been forgotten? There are some parades, but they are small ones. Some buildings fly the red and white flag of Saint George, but most don’t bother. It is not a public holiday, and very few young people even know that it exists. There is a small website campaigning to get better recognition, but you would be hard pressed to find it mentioned in the mainstream media, let alone celebrated in style. In central London, Trafalgar Square hosts a gathering of Morris Dancers, and a promotion of English food, for the benefit of some bemused tourists to wonder what is going on. The Prime Minister has issued an official message from Downing Street, and a few people are wandering about dressed in the style of 12th century Crusaders.

But we are missing the opportunity to celebrate England as a country in its own right, long before the formation of the UK, or the current union with Scotland, and the six counties of Northern Ireland. I am not a nationalist by nature, but surely we owe it to future generations to make them aware of the culture and heritage of the country that makes up such a large part of the British Isles? Has this country become so diverse, or steeped in apathy, that such things no longer matter? I sincerely hope not.

Happy Saint George’s Day everyone, from good old England.

Summer in England

Next Monday is the first of June. ‘Flaming June’, beloved of poets and writers, long light evenings following warm and sunny days. Mellow moods, vibrant flowers, and young animals frollicking in the fields. Crops reaching a good height, trees in full leaf, and the buzz of insects announcing the arrival of the long-awaited season of joy.

But this is England. So of course, it has been raining heavily for the last ten hours. The wind is ‘getting up’ as they say, and it feels a little chilly, not much more that ten degrees. It is dark enough inside the house to want to put on lamps, with barely enough light to read comfortably. The sound of the constant raindrops seems like a form of sonic torture after a while, and the damp can be felt in your joints, and in your mood.

The last day of the school half-term holiday, washed-out. Bored and listless children returning to electronic games, instead of enjoying the fresh air. Umbrellas recovered from the cupboards, wipers squeaking on car windscreens, the sound of water splashing as vehicles pass the window. The soundtrack to an English summer. Damp birds sit on branches, waiting to see if I am going to put out any bread today. Ollie has been fast asleep in the dark kitchen all morning, probably thinking it is still night. He came to look at me about ten minutes ago, as it is getting near the time for his walk. I explained to him that we were going to have to wait for a bit, hoping for the weather to break, at least a reduction in the strength of the rainfall.

He didn’t understand.

Back to normal

The good weather didn’t last after all. Much of the country has been hit by snowstorms. Airports are closed, trains are not running because of overdue engineering works, and we in Beetley were hit by a night of torrential rain, followed by hailstones at lunchtime. With one and a half days of the festive season still to run, life is pretty much back to normal.

As you might be aware, Norfolk is the driest county in England. That’s official. So you won’t be surprised to learn that we had a very bad flood in our shed again last night, caused by groundwater with nowhere else to go during the downpours. Wandering in there to get something this morning, I was shocked to discover 2-3 inches of freezing cold water sitting peacefully on the stone floor. It had seeped under the small freezer, but luckily was not high enough to short out the motor. The tumble drier was also safe, but my mood plummeted, as I knew that I had a big job on.

As this has happened before, I had made some precautionary defences, consisting of bundled-up dust sheets. They had been overwhelmed, and were sodden. Everything stored at floor level had to come out. The water cannot be brushed out, as there is a lip at the bottom of the door, to stop water getting in from outside. This stops me being able to brush it out from within. There’s an irony there somewhere that I don’t want to think about too much. Once the many items were removed and stored somewhere dry, (it was still raining…) I set about bailing out what water I could, using a dustpan. When this had achieved all it was going to, I then set to with towels. I used the towels that we normally use to dry the dog, then his blanket from the back of the car. These were nowhere near enough, and we had to resort to using our ‘reserve’ towels, ones that might be good enough for general use normally. We soon had a pile of grubby towels, drenched with freezing cold water. Julie started the long process of washing and drying them all, getting the first load into the machine.

I finished the job with paper towels, on my hands and knees, finally drying off the items that had been removed, before putting them back into the now very clean shed. Not for the first time, I considered that it might be better to demolish this building, and replace it with a boat of some sort. Trouble is, we would have a job getting the electrical items inside. After almost two hours of crawling around, kneeling in freezing water, on cold concrete, it was time to have a bath, and take Ollie for his walk. The meadow was a sea of mud; the small river had burst its banks, and was flowing like an Amazon tributary. The rear path was under water, so we had to head over to Hoe Rough, to make a decent walk of it. We found company with Oban and his owner, but much of the north side of the rough was under water too, so even walking over there was limited to the main paths.

I got back, pretty fed up, cold and damp, and pleased to be in.
I just thank my lucky stars that I live in such a dry county. It must be awful to live somewhere wet.