Ales n Tales – The Pre-Project Run-up 01 – Skating on the Knavesmire
Skating on the Knavesmire
I mentioned the flooding on the Knavesmire and it set the whole pub off, if someone hadn’t seen it they had heard about it. There was much discussion but mainly all people were saying in the end was that it is like a lake. Then someone pointed out that they remember it being like that and then just as it was going down it froze, froze solid in fact. I actually recall this myself and it was just as they told us, well, amazing is the only way to describe it. It was more popular for York people than a firework display. There were thousands there, word had gone round, not just that it was frozen but that it was quite safe. The water had been subsiding at the time so there was only two or three inches of it when it froze solid. (Ice always freezes solid doesn’t it!) I think it was about twenty five years ago because I recall a mob of us going down there with all the kids. It was an amazing sight, we were well wrapped up and needed to be, yet I recall it was bright and sunny that Sunday as we all herded towards the huge open plain of white glittering ice. Yes there were thousands there, right across the area. We did hurtle on there and I suppose it wasn’t completely safe, as someone went straight over as soon as they set foot. Once we had the idea however that one had to move carefully yet confidently we were off. There were huge slides built and one could slide really long distances. Some slides seemed to be easier and safer as they were on a slight incline (that would never happen on a lake!) and one could set off slowly with just a slight push off and then go for ages. There were people skating, and what seemed most exciting, two or three people had brought not only their sledges but their dogs and were going flying by at great speed with the dogs roped up and hurtling forward across the ice field. The kids still talk about it now.
Ales n Tales – The Pre-Project Run-up 02 – Spider Chasers:
Raising the head above the parapet but still not reaching the conkers
When you stand up to perform you are stood up in front of people, well obviously, and they not only see you there telling stories , or singing songs, or whatever it is you do, they also see you as being in charge of everything; where the loos are, how the world works, everything. Take the recent Gunpowder Plod event, (which I thoroughly enjoyed by the way) someone marched into the marquee I was performing in as I was setting up and said, “You moved it.” Sorry? “You moved your tent.” I hadn’t. “When you made the map you put the tent over there and then when you set up the site you put your tent here.” I had found the tent straight away when I had walked in and that was before all the bunting went all over it, and of course I am nothing to do with site arrangements or the problem with avoiding pitching in a muddy area.
It is the same with York Stories 2012, well more or less the same. I am thrilled to be part of this exciting project and in particular to be hosting Ales n Tales around the pubs of York in the near future, but does that really mean I am to blame for conkers?!
“What are you going to do about this problem with conkers?” I was a bit taken aback and wondered how I could be responsible; I was also intrigued as to what the terrible problem was. I almost wish I hadn’t asked, for as soon as the explanation came out that it was to do with fear of spiders, not only did all the table prick up their ears and join in but so did the folks at tables all around. Fear of spiders, a very emotive topic. A topic that perhaps had fired my colleague up a little too much but, as with the map critic in the marquee earlier, she was actually a nice fun person. Turns out there is a shortage of conkers this year, not just outside the Acomb Working Men’s Club which is normally the scene every year of passers by of all types and ages stopping to gather pockets full of the shiny wonders but even in Scotland, even in Tang Hall (or is that walnuts?). The reason word has spread so widely is because it has been rumoured that conkers, wait for it, keep away spiders. This was not a rumour, I was informed, this, was a fact. One friend was quite put out that she had said this quite a while ago and no one had taken any notice. It wasn’t until someone mentioned it on local radio that interest was peeked. Then another friend, who reckons to be a witch or something, had been doing research into the Pendle Witches and had come across the claim, this consolidated it into fact; Conkers keep away spiders! There, it was decided, but as word had spread so had running feet and all had returned with very low results. One conker here, a couple there. Social networking revealed that the problem was British Isles spread. Scotland, Ireland, Mull: postings, comments and tweets were spreading the panic wider and wider.
What we have to wonder is, what is all this to do with York Stories 2012, well it is a York story of sorts, but it is this responsibility thing, that we seem to like to foist upon the first person to dare to raise their head above the parapet or to ‘make a fuss’ about anything. “I would be gathering stories from around the pubs for Ales n Tales right!?” Well if you are gathering you had better be able to do something about them. Personally I wasn’t sure that’s how it works. But I felt responsible, so promised there and then that I would find a whole heap of conkers and bring them along as spider chasers. So far I have found two; and they were all wizened up at the back of a shelf at home. Perhaps a bag of Chestnuts would do the trick, or at least get me off the hook around that table.
I was about to say can any readers out there help? But no, I had better not I might get inundated, but if anyone has any further information, tales, anecdotes, other remedies for what ails us, do please send them in as stories for us.
Watch out for conkers!…..
Ales n Tales – The Pre-Project Run-up 03 – The Swans
“What’s all this about you being asked to go round pubs collecting stories?” asked a friend of mine over a pint, “Ales and Tales isn’t it?”
I admitted that I was about to be spending time going around pubs, (as a complete change from my ordinary evenings out). At that a guy across the way called out, “I’ve seen you! You were doing a thing about swans. Waving your arms about all funny you were. – It were good”
“Nasty things swans” says my pal Gra, turns out he used to have two hang out near his takeaway where he worked. People were frightened of them but the swans were frightened of him. He would see people not daring to come across to the shop because the swans were there, and he would have to deal with it. One time a couple were in a car outside and there was a swan at each side looking at them and the couple shut the doors back up and sat tight, so Graham went out to sort it. He said he would just go out the door and look at the swans, swing his head and say “Go on, off you go” and they would wander off with their heads down.
Here is the swan story people may well have seen me telling (no arm waving this time though):
As a small child I was told by my mother that we were going out as she had heard of a special discovery and that I aught to see it. We walked down to West Bank Park and in through the huge ornamented gates, the path meandered, enclosed by trees and banked gardens, to approach the regal Victoria and then on through the rose walk. We came out as expected to the open garden of the park with the swings ahead; she carried on though, until we came to the woods. The woods that no one went in, there were no paths and this area had been left to nature, and to the dark.
She ceremoniously took my hand and we worked our way through the undergrowth, noticing others had been this way of late. In the depths of the wood as it seemed to me, there was a narrow covered clearing. Here in the gloom she walked me to the edge of a small pit. From the times of this whole area being known as ‘Yackum Sandoils’ by the locals, when the region was quarried for clay and gravel and all had been left to fill as ponds; here was one small example of this history. It was deep with steep sides with only a little water that had found its way through the trees. There in this shallow darkened pool swam an old old creature. This once elegant swan seemed drab and somehow downcast as it turned slowly around the circle of the pit.
My mother explained to me how swans when they meet mate for life. This old swan used to be seen upon the river with his beloved, always together. Then in later years somehow she had died and he was alone. Broken-hearted he wanted nothing from this life and had flown into the depth of this wood to live out the last of his days in deep sadness. People threw him scraps as they visited occasionally and he circled in there for quite a long time. On other visits as we played in the sunshine and rode on the swings, sometimes we would turn to each other and us children would whisper of the old old swan left alone in the dark of the wood. We would see adults wander away in among the ferns and briars to find him and offer him a little of our picnic.
They do say, that when he did at last pass away that his spirit rose up from that deep dark hole and flew low over the park, they say that if you were to walk across the path of that journey you would be overwhelmed by deep deep timeless sadness. They do also say that at the edge of the path where a clearing among the trees points across to the way to the river that if one was to pass through that area one would be intermingled with the echoes of the two beloved swans reunited forever and that as their necks entwine in embrace one would feel their spirit and be engulfed with a powerful lasting feeling of love.
Together at last their spirits rise to fly, to return to their home upon the ways of the river and they are together at last, in spirit and in future lives, forever a couple in love.