Category: 3 Stops Back


Happiness is Infectious

“It takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 to frown.” ~ Unknown

Pretty woman smiling.

Obviously it is a lot less stressful to smile.

Happiness is infectious – go and infect somebody with a smile.

Here is my smile to you.

JP at Christie Park

Viola Sold Bread

Occasionally, as my mind veers toward a random moment, vivid images from my past rear up and I allow myself to luxuriate in the memory. I have noticed that sense of smell has played an enormous part in the strongest of memories. In fact, as I mull this over, sense of smell has been fundamental in all intense events of my life.

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Viola Sold Bread

A few months ago I took one of my children, Rachel, back to the village where I was raised. A hamlet near Skipton in what was the West Riding of Yorkshire. With a tiny population of 700 it was impossible to be a recluse, a number of families, including mine, had lived in the village since the end of the last Ice Age, so I was told. The family had always lived in Plum Tree Cottage, a delightful place which seemed to me, an enormous property, always full of relatives, friends, dogs and the aroma of the ‘hanging pot’.

The ‘hanging pot’ was essentially a witches cauldron, left permanently hanging on a large swinging hook  by the fireplace. Any surplus food that came into the cottage was lobbed into the pot to stew, anyone who felt hungry would dip into the pot and eat. Whenever I walked through the door I could tell what was in the pot, the smell of rabbit or chicken, onions or carrots, simmering seductively and always a temptation. If I visited after school I was always given a bowl to fill and a lump of fresh bread to sop up the juices whilst sitting on a stool by the fire. Great Auntie Lilian was the matriarch, she had several sisters, Edith, Monica, Cissie, Sally and, youngest by far, Viola who were frequently in the house. I can distinctly remember one occasion when Monica and  Cissie were visiting, the three ladies were preparing afternoon tea, chattering and gossiping as they milled around the kitchen. I was playing under a table and they asked me if I wanted to share their sandwiches, precise crustless triangles! Amazingly I just couldn’t eat the darn things because of the smell, cucumber? I mean who eats cucumber sandwiches? I took out the cucumber, slipped it into my pocket in my den under the table and gobbled up the freshly buttered bread.

My daughter and I roamed around the village, visiting all my old haunts. I droned on about happenings at each place. ‘Here is the Tythe Barn where I first went to school.’ ‘This is the gate where I threw a snowball at Philip and smashed his specs.’ ‘This is the place where my brother was buried.’ It went on for an age, Rachel was sweet and polite enough to let me babble on, realising it was something that I needed to tell her for my satisfaction rather than hers. We ambled down The Wend where several family members used to live in small terraced mill cottages then on toward the Beck where I spent hours playing, or tickling for trout. Arriving at the final properties of The Wend my senses suddenly kicked into top gear and the smell of freshly baked bread was real. The memory of Great Auntie Viola’s bread shop came flooding back. Viola lived with another lady, they baked bread and cakes in their kitchen, then sold directly to the villagers from the kitchen.

Auntie Vi Bread Shop

Viola weeding under her ‘shop’ window

I remember well being given a thrupenny bit and told to go to Auntie Vi’s and buy some teacakes or bread. Teacakes the like of which can’t be found any more, teacakes fit for giants, bread that had a proper crust and smelled of, well, freshly baked bread. I would run down the lanes to the footbridge over the beck, through the snicket and up to the kitchen window. When bread was for sale the kitchen window would be open and the bread sitting on a table inside. If Auntie Vi was there she would take the order, otherwise I would call for her and she would appear. Running this errand was worth it for the reward, Auntie Vi always gave me a fresh scone with currents, they were often warm, she would split the scone with a bone handled butter knife, smear it with a great dollop of butter from the local farm. As I walked back to the house with the teacakes in a bag I would nibble on the scone, savouring the currents as if they were fruits made in heaven.

We stood at a distance admiring the old house, me engrossed in the story. Rachel nudged me and pointed to an elderly lady who had appeared and was weeding in a garden underneath the ‘shop’ window. She wore an old hat tied under her chin with a floral ribbon and a pale blue shirt. Could this be Viola? I couldn’t resist and walked up the path to where she was working. The lady had turned, now with her back to us and was carefully weeding with intense concentration. I called out a ‘Hello’, but she didn’t turn. I called again with the same result. She must have been deaf, so we left her in peace and walked away hoping this was Great Auntie Viola.

Our final stop was Plum Tree Cottage across the beck. We stood by the garden wall, resting our arms on the rounded top stones. I noticed somebody stand up inside and frown at us, clearly wondering why we were staring at the house. The lady came to the door and we engaged her in conversation. Nearly 40 years on I found I was talking to one of my second cousins, Deborah. Her mother had inherited the cottage when Lilian died and Deborah was now happily continuing the family traditions. She said that Auntie Vi had died many years ago, but the memories didn’t die with her. How satisfying to rekindle the origin of such a  fond memory.

Slurry on the Brain

Early morning and once again I am up with a brain full of rampaging thoughts. I am convinced, if I ever had time to filter and pursue this drivel, amazing things would be revealed.

So today a decision was taken, whilst warm and toasty in my bed, to at least do something about the thoughts. Which means I am now sitting in front of the laptop in only my t-shirt, my legs and other bits slowly getting cold as I desperately try to smash down some verbage to get me going and relieve the constant feeling that there really is something in my head that needs to be written down.

Perhaps this load of mental slurry, something to be shovelled up, is a motivator that sleep puts into the word hopper and sprays around randomly throughout the day.

Anyhow this is the start of something, seeing as you are reading this you have begun the journey with me, and that is a scary thought, somebody else is with me.

Prepare yourself, because I have no clue what will come out of the slurry pit. Buckle up and let’s get cracking.

John