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A little trip through life

Come and take a little trip with me - through my life and with a few other people as well.....You can listen to the music if you don't like the photos....!
Jan/ian (Mr le Marquis - Iwmpop ) Personal Slideshow: Ian’s trip from Le Creusot, Burgundy, France to Nîmes was created by TripAdvisor. See another Nîmes slideshow. Create your own stunning slideshow with our free photo slideshow maker.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas comes but once a year - very true, but from a certain moment onwards, one can look back, over more than - much more than - two months of "Christmesses".
So let's make a start!
As the reader may well imagine, the first Christmesses hold little or nothing of interest. In fact one cannot even recall them!
Two months after birth, two months after you start the process of dying, to be presented with a monumental festival called "Christmas" means nothing. Even a few years must pass before one recalls anything.
What did I drink, what did I eat during these first "festive" periods? I dread to think, so we'll pass to the first ones that I roughly remember some details of!
In the 1940's, things like rationing, poverty, ill-health, damp walls, cold, and many other unimaginables nowadays were very rife and very present. A lot of them actually seem to be coming back, in a later century, and always for the same reasons, same causes, same results.

Scotland 1950's "College", Hurlet House,Paisley.

My parents were born sometime at the beginning of the 20th Century, and to all accounts were relatively unassuming, normal people, with normal upbringings in a Scotland of the time. Then something went wrong!

My father felt the calling to what was called "the ministry of the word of God" and my mother followed suit.

This means, quite simply, that I was born into a "Pastor's" family, or one could say as "the son of a Preacherman"'

Doubtless this has advantages in the sort of "never-never-paradise-awaited" promised land, but this was Scotland, in the 40's, and such advantages were distinctly absent.

My parents, as "God's Servants" had the right to live in a cottage belonging to the Church, rent-free - but not damp free. They also had the right to exist on no "fixed" or "declared" salary or wage, but on the benevolence and kind-hearted sentiments and offerings from Church members, who would give freely of their "tithe" and about less than the half to the Pastor who was expected to baptise them, marry them, bury them, and otherwise take care of them during their existence.

I often had the feeling, even as a very young boy, that my father was somehow proud of his wet feet, wet through trudging around his Parish and through visiting his Parishioners in all weathers, with his shoes magnificently worn through.

Even all the efforts of "patching" (a sort of nailing bits of left over leather over the holes in the shoesoles) didn't really help a lot, and for a Specialised Footware Cobbler (for such was my Father's secular profession) it must have been quite a challenge - a lost battle, as the holes in his socks proved!

I was not really aware of the circumstances, and it wouldn't have helped if I had been anyway, for what do you compare things to, if you only know one thing?

The cottage in which we lived was quite a pleasant little place, with no neighbours for miles, but a lot of wooded land, and was made for good health, being some 5 miles from the Church where my Father practised his Ministry, which meant a good, brisk walk to get to the Church on time, three times on a Sunday, and on various other days of the week. In Summer I could nourish myself from the wild raspberries which were strewn along the road, but in winter...?

Did you know that the Scottish thistle is a member of the Artichock family, and has a more than edible nut at the centre? I didn't either, but I soon found out!

I say it was a pleasant little place, called "College" (as is witnessed on my Birth Certificate), and it could have been, if it hadn't been placed in Scotland!

Cottages should never be in Scotland, they should always be in those areas where the weather is fine, most of the time, in those places where you don't have to wring your socks out in the morning before you put them on, and where you don't have to break the thin ice coating of the morning face toilet water.

As a child, I was left mainly to myself, my parents having time only for their "flock" so I was very thankful to have my dog "Derry" who served as a pony for me in the wooded lands surrounding the cottage. It seems that we were often seen together, kicking up a lot of dust (actually frost) in the undergrowth, and generally checking that the Northwest Passage was still there to be discovered!
Christmas, at the time, was a relatively simple affair. Being the Church celebration number one, it was the Church which took priority!

My sister had not yet been born, and my elder brother had rapidly decided that his future was more to be dedicated to one of the richer members of my Father's Congregation, who lived in a "normal" house, than to the romantic vagaries of a Cottage, and who could blame him?

All the same, Christmas was the only occasion in the year when one could count on having just about all four members of this strange community gathered together around anything - otherwise the only occasion they found themselves under the same roof was in the Church.

Even then, this depended on various things beyond the control of any of us.

It depended on the generosity of the Church congregation members, and on the punctual arrival of a parcel from the USA, where my Father's Church had it's foundations.

Both of these things were always unsure - right up to the Eve of Christmas. At the time, Postal deliveries were made daily, three or four times a day (yes-it's true), so letters and parcels could arrive at anytime up to around 6pm, even on a Christmas Eve.

On the other hand, there were no postal deliveries on Christmas Day, so what hadn't arrived up to 6pm Christmas Eve wasn't there for Christmas!
The same thing applied to the Church Secretary, who had the whim of bringing (out of generosity and God's benevolence) some sort of Poultry for the Minister and his family. Trouble was that one could never be sure that this beast (I mean the poultry) was REALLY going to turn up, although I don't actually recall a Christmas when it didn't!

The package from America, however, was quite another matter.

This was beyond all control, coming from some Paradise where poultry was given to other poultry as food, the people walked around with their mouths full - on a permanent basis - something called chewing gum, apparantly, and they substituted this stuff, from time to time, with little wooden sticks, each one with a round ball of sugary stuff stuck on the end. This was called a lollypop, I never did figure out why!

They also put the most amazing things into metal containers, called "tins", and it was one of these that my Parent's (my mother in particular) awaited with what almost approached impatience, from the start of December onwards!

The arrival of this "tin" meant, basically, that Christmas was saved. We would be able to reap God's bountiful larder, and load our table with the conserved, tinned ham, together with turnips from a local farmer, and maybe even potatoes! We would be able to praise and thank the lord for his goodness.

I would be able to pinch a couple of packs this strange "chewing gum" stuff, which I detested, and change it in at School for other things which I preferred, whilst making quite a reputation as the only boy who had access to the American Chewing Gum world, quite in fashion at the time.
There were other things in this package, but the most important was the tinned ham.

Nowadays I have found out that corned beef is actually made from monkey meat, and spam from people, so I don't really want to go into the origins of this sometimes square, sometimes oval shaped tin. Sufficed to say that wrapped in a piece of pastry made from some borrowed or begged flour, some fat from anywhere (don't ask), and water, it made a relatively enjoyable "special" meal.

Poultry was, of course, at the time, something way beyond the means of even well paid people, so to actually envisage the presence of both these things in the space of as many days on our table, WAS effectively a sort of miracle!

Of course, these things had to make , and made , frequent return trips kitchen - table - kitchen over the following days/weeks, but that didn't really matter - they were there, actually physically present, and therefore we would not starve maybe! We were a part of the RICH!

Praise be to God!

(The interesting thing, when I look back, was that a famous Scottish product, called the Dumpling, was never (or rarely) present at Christmas time. Strange, because we normally had the right to one on a birthday, and strange because it resembles the famous or infamous Christmas Pudding, so detested by the French!
Of course, what I enjoyed about the Dumpling -and I think everyone else did too- was the presence - somewhere - in this massive cloth-boiled pudding of at least one ,and generally only one, silver threepenny piece, wrapped in greaseproof paper, and just waiting to break your unsuspecting tooth! )

Anyway, returning to our Christmas in question, one of the problems was the usual one, how to get this tinned ham open! Much bigger than the tins one sees nowadays, and the normal tins of the time, a tin opener was of little use.
The tins did have a sort of key, which supposed to work by being inserted into a band of metal thinner than the rest, which went around the circumference of the whole tin, but more often than not this method didn't work, and ended up with freshly gashed hands and fingers from razor like metal edges.
Somehow the tin was always opened, but on this particular occasion, I had the doubtful pleasure to inform the assembled company that "there were little white things coming out of the ham!"
Yes, my dear reader, the so awaited "honey whatever Kentucky Tinned Ham" had been gnashed by maggots, and was a sort of heaving mass of living, little white bestials!
Tears followed, and the suggestion to try eating the maggots was not taken up! I daresay that had the poultry choice not existed we may well have attempted a sort of "alternative nourishment pate" made entirely of crushed maggots and things like onions!
Romantics were always present anyway, at Christmas time in Scotland, snow was quite abundant at the epoch, and frost a permanent feature. The log fire burning away merrily was not part of the romantics, as nowadays, but simply the only possibility of having warmth. Since the cottage or lodge did not have an upstairs, there was no point in searching the chimney passage to put one's bed against, thus avoiding a certain amount of coldness and dampness. All the heat, or at least 80% of it went up the chimney, and Jack Frost was probably quite content! What heat did come out of the fireplace had a tendancy to be blocked by the enormous back parts of one of the adults, just "warming up" the backside a little!
Life was just one bed of roses!
We didn't have newspapers or journals and magazines, we didn't have TV, the radio took around 10 minutes to warm up and finally give some spluttering noises from itself.
Only much later did I find out that people actually went off at this period of the year looking for snow and frost, and paying handsomely for the privilege! Maybe better that I didn't know, for even at a tender age one could still be quite capable of envy, and so I was quite happy to sleep rolled up with my dog "Derry", who - being a sort of typical sheepdog, had a sufficiently thick covering of fur to keep both of us warm!
Thankfully I don't have many recallings of the epoch, but I do recall that outside of Winter, the lodge or cottage was an exciting place to live as a very young child, roaming with the dog in the woods (paedophiles hadn't been thought up yet, I think!) and occasionally it was an occupying pastime, in Winter, to watch the little rivers of dampness run down the painted walls, and finally join the basin of washing water, turning immediately to ice, ready to give the matinal pleasure of cracking the ice to wash your face. A dampish towel to sort of damply dry yourself down, and the day was started.
Why I, or anyone else who lived there, were never seriously ill, is to this day, a mystery.
Must be praise and thanks be to God time - again!
The lodge or cottage made up the first 5 or 6 years of my many Christmesses, the quicker forgotten, the better! Although..................
mr le marquis du Galipot. Vauvert,France. 23 December 2007.

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