Saturday, June 29, 2013

Country Hoard

With my interest in slower, rural life, Alison Uttley's recollection of a late 19th Century childhood on a farm in Derbyshire fitted the whimsical bill.
Known by me for her successful children's books ( especially A Traveller in Time and the Little Grey Rabbit series ), this title is illustrated with great care by C F Tunnicliffe. 
It's another time and another place, when communities, though often isolated, were cohesive.
   "Anyone who had been snubbed or repressed to silence before other people was said to have "sneaped". A haughty woman would sneap another, an overbearing man would sneap his wife, the wintry wind sneaped us to silence. 
    A person who was too sensitive to cold was said to be nesh. It was often used of one who was unable to endure any hardship. Also it had a kinder meaning. After an illness one was nesh, and must take care. A baby was nesh, and must be guarded." ( P. 127 )

Much is made of the rhythms of farm life, the joys of the recurring seasons, the ties that bind the members of a community and the simplicity of self-reliance.
   "The strange smells of the smithy attracted me, and I stood as near the open door as I dared. The blacksmith was a morose man, in his leather apron, dark and torn. His face was dark, his hair coal black, his temper was irritable, he shouted strange oaths, and threw down his hammer with such a clatter it was like doom. He blew up the fire with wheezing bellows, and a shower of golden sparks went through the hole in the roof to the trees above. He shaped the horse-shoe on the anvil and the sharp clang of the hammer rang through the market place like a bell". ( P. 86 )
The world, as such, exists within reach, for everything necessary is there, within reach, for contentment.
She doesn't ever seem to have had a dull day, but then there was always activity around the farm, and the natural world around it to explore.
 Although looking back, this memoir is also a tribute to the senses, tingling with life.
   "Frummerty, which we had for breakfast at certain periods, was whole wheat, creed all day and night in the oven. "Creeing" meant the art of cooking very slowly in an earthenware vessel, until the wheat formed a jelly. 
    We called the rind of bacon, the sword. Bacon badly cured was reasty. Heavy bread was sad, a most expressive description. We culled the vegetables when we gathered them. Peas and beans were hulled, which meant shelled. The shells were hulls". ( P. 129 )
The twelve chapters ( with names such as 'Sledging', 'Flowers', 'Writing Letters', 'Bathrooms' - with which Alison Uttley grew up without - and 'Field Toys' ) read as a sort of traveller's guide to the past. Although perhaps a little simplistic and rosy to us today, the writing asks to be lingered over.
  This is, of course though, the world seen through a child's eyes, when everything is new.
   "I felt such bliss steal over me as I pulled the sledge up the hill that I knew I had reached the core. There could never be anything more beautiful as long as I lived. If only the snow would stay, if the night wouldn't fall, if the lamplight would always shine from the farmhouse to tell me that home was waiting! I could go on for ever, immortal". ( P. 57 )
It's the sort of book you sigh over, saving chapters for later, not wanting it to end...
...but then, I've got these great, ripping Australian yarns, 'The Bunyip of Barney's Elbow', to get stuck into, so regret won't be lasting long...


  1. This sounds like a charming book. I couldn't help but reflect at a couple of places on your post. You mentioned "the ties that bind" the community. I was immediately taken back to my childhood, standing in between my mamma and daddy at the end of church services singing, "Bless Be The Ties That Bind."

    The second reflection was of "hulling peas". My mother also called shelling hulling. Mother would buy them by the bushel basket. We hulled peas and snapped beans. She would return the hulls to the farmers to feed their livestock. Thank you for such lovely memories of a time when wonderful surprises could be found in every corner and under every rock in your own backyard.

    1. Hi Bonnie. We don't necessarily have much connection to our immediate world any more. Like alot of others, I miss that.
      Having good memories is perhaps something that matters more as we get older. I'm glad to hear you have memories that buoy you!

  2. Beautiful illustrations. Are they woodcuts? Frummerty makes me think of The Mayor Of Casterbridge and the sly old 'furmity' seller charging Henchard a few pennies more to add a slug of rum (I think). Dave

    1. Dave it doesn't say. I think some of them are woodcuts, but most are pen sketches (?).
      I love Thomas Hardy and his world.
      I remember my Mum used to make 'flummery', a sort of fruit mousse, but prob'ly no relation of 'furmity'.
      If there was a slug of rum involved, I wonder if the result would be 'infurmity'!

  3. Dear Faisal,
    I do like the sound of this book. Alison Uttley wrote another book called 'The Country Child'. I have 'buyer's regret' when I think about it as I had a choice of buying that or another book but not enough moneyi n my pocket for both - so I chose the other one instead.
    Having said that I like the look of your second book. The cover looks as if it might be illustrated by Norman Lindsay. Is it? Will you let us know what the book is like once you have finished? I hope so!

    1. Hello Kirk,
      you can't have everything I guess! I wonder what the book you DID get was?
      Yes, The Bunyip of Barney's Elbow (1956) has its dust jacket by Norman Lindsay, and its introduction. It's surprisingly funny still.

  4. nothing like a good book to dive in dear Faisal

    thank you so much for your lovely comments lately. they mean a lot : )

    enjoy your day