When this is past, a merry crew,
Bedecked in masks and ribbons gay,
The Morris Dance, their sports renew,
And act their winter evening play.
The clown turned king, for penny praise,
Storms with the actor’s strut and swell,
And harlequin, a laugh to raise,
Wears his hunch-back and tinkling bell.
Old customs! Oh! I love the sound,
However simple they may be;
Whate’er with time hath sanction found,
Is welcome, and is dear to me,
Pride grows above simplicity,
And spurns them from her haughty mind;
And soon the poet’s song will be
The only refuge they can find.
Verses by John Clare (1793-1864)
Wishing a Merry Yule to followers old and new, and thanks for reading: the thoughts, comments and likes are really appreciated…
Winter light, early afternoon at St Peter’s Church, Tiverton, 2013. A gallery of hassocks, appreciated by someone enough to raise them from the ancient floor so they can greet visitors with all the flourish of a medieval pageant. The subjects are wild and varied, many birds and even Saint George tackling a dragon. In particular their are owls. Many owls. (Currently owls are all over our high streets, from stylised 1970s versions staring saucer-eyed from tea towels to teapots, doorstops, notebooks… this is definitely the decade of the wild wood. If only people loved the real thing as much.)
Only in winter. They’re the most convincingly shy owls I’ve met.
I wish you could buy this kind of light as an electric bulb.
At one end of the church is this wall painting, a pristine postcard from the early seventies, a trail through centuries of townspeople. It’s folk art perfection with more than a hint of medieval heaven and hell. There’s so much to see – from the artist’s effort to write the times into the face of each decade to the turn of each head. And it ends in louche, 1970s perfection. You can almost read a quiet, assertive knowledge in the girl’s face: ‘Look how far we’ve come’. Where did we go?
I could almost be going home to watch the 1973 Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special, for here’s the Queen Mother. In this corner of Devon she’s still graciously doing her thing.
The Free Design, Close Your Mouth It’s Christmas, 1969
Since when did Christmas smell of donuts?
Britain has imported the German Christmas Market in recent years, which could be an echo of Prince Albert delighting Queen Victoria with his festive tree in the 19th century. Except of course the British get it a bit wrong. In our version it seems to have become a good idea to pack town squares and cathedral greens with scores of garden sheds. They’re filled with the half-made contents of an out-of-town hobby/craft warehouse and a heap of burgers and donuts. Does this make it a special time of year? Like hell it does.
GPO poster by Hans Unger, 1962.
Real Christmas isn’t Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday. How we all thrill as the UK media now jumps lemming-like into the abyss and tells us how EVERYONE is buying their presents in these 48 hours.
It’s true, they scream. A woman broke her wrist in Asda in the struggle for bargains! Don’t we realise that people EVERYWHERE have filled their homes with flat-pack garden sheds, the contents of that out-of-town hobby/craft warehouse and at this very moment are stuffing their lusty vacuum-cleaner mouths with donuts and burgers – at the same time! Don’t worry about Santa’s little elves in the online shopping warehouses on their night-shifts: they’re smiling through the pain.
A Christmas present does not demonstrate love. It’s just moving currency around different bank accounts.
There are other ways to appreciate the people in your life, but a present saves time – precious time – when we could be eating burgers and donuts in front of the cathedral.
Close Your Mouth, It’s Christmas can be experienced here on Youtube – an inspired title, because while ‘Shut Your Mouth’ is elegantly negotiated to avoid offence, the result is more like the pronouncement of some omnipotent, easy-listening deity.
Fine Horseman is a song from Anne Briggs’ 1971 album The Time Has Come. It was originally a composition by Lal Waterson, which she didn’t record herself until later, adding extra verses in the process. I think Anne Briggs’s interpretation is definitive – it’s such…
One of Agnes Miller Parker’s wood engravings for a 1930s edition of The Return of the Native. And then, from the same decade, a short film by Herman G. Weinberg called Autumn Fire. There’s a man in the city, a woman in the country –…