IN THE DEPTHS OF WINTER it is good to remind ourselves of long, hot summer days. Some of the nicest of those days for me are when I am out walking in the countryside, with all the sights, sounds and sensations of the hills, fields and woodlands. One of my favourite sounds is the inimitable song of the Skylark, usually followed by a long peer up into the atmosphere for a welcome sighting of this beautiful creature that gives so much joy.
There are many different kinds of lark but perhaps the one that comes to mind most memorably for people is the Skylark. Without daring to find out I am sure that Vaughan Williams had this little bird in mind when he wrote his uplifting The Lark Ascending, particularly in the way it flies very high, almost out of sight, together with its attractive signature song. It’s song has been described as ‘sunshine turned into song’, quite rightly.
You can listen to a little sunshine here:
My dad, John Archibald Frew, originally of Musselburgh, Scotland died thirty years ago this New Year’s Day, just after midnight on January 1st, 1984, shortly after I’d celebrated the bells with him.
Consequently, this time of year is never easy – even after all these years. In those early years afterwards it haunted me.
There’s never a day passes when I don’t think of him, all he imparted to his son, the lessons he taught me. I can still hear the soft tones of his voice any time I care to listen in my mind. That last night we were together during the celebrations I kissed him during the celebrations, the first time since being a little boy.
John was the product of a very hard background. Poverty meant that he often went without shoes on his feet as a bairn. As infants in Musselburgh he and his brother slept in makeshift beds made from the drawers of an old chest. The wee boy’s mammy, Elizabeth, died when he was just four years old. Those early life experiences toughened him as hard as teak for the trials he would go through subsequently. Let it not be ignored though that he could show rare wisdom and at times be a very funny man indeed. People told me he was a most popular and loved man in the town we lived. Wherever he walked he would speak to all and greet them cheerily as an old friend.
As a youngster he had a roaming spirit and attempted to ‘run away’ from home on many occasions. Later on he was to steadily save the money on returned ‘jeely jars’ and acquire himself a ramshackle bicycle with which he cycled from Lanarkshire to Doncaster in England before falling off the bike during the monumental journey and sleeping, exhausted, in a deep ditch for the night. A passing policeman helped him out of there in the morning when he woke.
He strived for a living in the pits of Scotland as a young boy of just fourteen, working all day long on his hands and knees in water. He then worked on the Scapa Flow naval base on Orkney with his dear brother Alex ‘Sandy’, before travelling the world as a proud Merchant Seaman. The German U-Boats tried their best on those horrific runs but couldn’t kill him in the icy waters of the North Atlantic.
For the year coming, he would have been proud, I know, to think that the country he loved so, could have the opportunity to stand alone and look after itself.
My dad was my rock and his memory remains that to this day. I owe him much.
John Archibald Frew 1921-1984 ‘Life’s work well done’.
During the 1990s in particular, the High Streets of this country largely lost their small independent bookshops which for most true book lovers was a great shame. I remember prior to those days the likes of Mushroom a co-operative run bookshop in Nottingham’s Hockley area, my first purchase there being the Communist Party Manifesto if I recall correctly! There were other similar interesting little outlets too.
It’s recently come to my attention that Nottingham now owns a brand-new independent retailer, ‘The Five Leaves Bookshop’ situated centrally in the city on Long Row. Five Leaves have been doing very good things in this part of the world for some time and are to be applauded for this fresh enterprise. I intend a visit on my next trip into the city and humbly suggest others check this new business out too. No, I’m not on commission, I’m a lover of literature and reading and what these things bring to our lives. I’d like to see this trend for small independent booksellers grow here in Nottingham and other cities and towns.
AT THIS TIME of year, this blog’s host prepares a nifty resume of the past year. A few interesting facts (to me at least) one being that I REALLY need to write a little more in the coming year. Here’s hoping.
Here’s an excerpt:
Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 66,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
‘And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.’
I recently came across an internet discussion headed ‘Why are bus drivers so bitter?’ The person asking the question had felt let down by a bus driver not allowing him onto his bus though standing at a bus stop. Without delving into that set of circumstances I think those of us who have cause to use bus services all have our frustrations to relate.
The area of Nottinghamshire where I live is served by Nottingham City Transport Buses and also a private East Midlands bus company called Trent Barton. Alighting a corporation bus, one is reasonably likely, though by no means always, liable to experience a poor, uncommunicative or sullen attitude from the drivers whereas the Trent Barton drivers are at the other end of the spectrum, invariably behaving in a friendly, personable and helpful manner.
I agreed with many of the assertions in the discussion revolving around the frustrations of the drivers and what a difficult and trying job it must be. I think this takes it toll – these men and women do a thankless job in many respects. An interesting observation for me locally is that the corporation drivers generally drive just a few miles on their routes through very frustrating city and suburban conditions – with the resultant effect on the drivers. Just imagine driving stop-start all shift long, the abuse from some members of the public and so on. The Trent Barton drivers tend to partly drive through the city too but their routes are often longer with stretches through open countryside. The bus I use between home and Nottingham city centre is a journey of but four miles but the bus then usually continues on to Chesterfield – a full thirty mile journey with only an intermittent stop in a built up area (Mansfield). I’m sure this helps the drivers and is a mood lifter.
Perhaps more importantly, I’m pretty sure the Trent Barton drivers are trained and educated in their attitudes towards customers. The company has a smaller ‘family feel’ to it and this culture really improves relations between staff and customers. They also make judicious use of social media to communicate with their customers. The Facebook and Twitter comments they provide through the day can be incredibly helpful regarding en-route problems, cheap fares and so on.
The result is a superior service. The respect is palpable between drivers and customers and the positivity and friendliness shown by the drivers mostly delivered right back at them from their passengers. The service, as far as travelling on buses goes, is a pleasant one to use. I have a choice in my suburb of using Trent Barton buses or Nottingham City Transport buses. Guess which one I don’t use from one year to the next?
WELL, I FINALLY managed to get along to see the Sunshine on Leith movie
I can say from the heart that in no way was I disappointed – despite huge expectations.
I’m certainly not a great fan of musicals generally but Sunshine on Leith worked very well for me with the songs being melded into the dialogue opportunely and fairly seamlessly. Of course, being an admirer of The Proclaimers’ body of work helps but nevertheless I felt this aspect of it, from my layman’s point of view, was excellent. A script that possessed genuine emotion and elicited a certain caring for the characters moved things along nicely between Morningside and the old port.
The landscape shots over the city? Well, I expected to be impressed as even from my personal (and biased) view, Edinburgh is the most photogenic of cities. However, I found myself choking up several times over the true grandeur of Old Reekie in all its historic and geographic glory. Simply stunning – even to those of us who know and expect these sights and those feelings
The Proclaimers/Hibs connection was skilfully performed with no overkill and just in the right amounts.
There is nowhere like home and this eagerly awaited cinematographic ‘ribbon of dreams’ made me want to walk to my car and drive straight to Edinburgh without stopping. I can offer no higher compliment.
Well done to all.
Things are looking pretty bleak for the local football club, Arnold Town, after a proud and illustrious past, formerly as Arnold St. Mary’s (and Arnold Kingswell). They perform a good service to the community, running some thirty teams for players of all ages.
It was sad to see them leave the centre of the town a few years ago when they lost their home at the King George V playing field after many a year but hopes were high with an excellent facility built-in the nearby countryside for them to use.
I’ve a few happy memories of watching them as a youngster, in particular against professional opposition in the form of Bristol Rovers and Port Vale in the FA Cup amongst many other games, here in the town and I really hope they keep a long, local tradition alive.
Come on The Eagles.
RECENTLY, A STUDENT at one of the local universities requested, after browsing The Tears of a Clown that I participate in her research on the topic of blogging and it’s relationship to journalism. There were a few interesting and well-conceived questions posed and taking part became a thought-provoking exercise. This site celebrated it’s sixth birthday this month so it seemed to be an opportune time to consider the medium of blogging generally. The questions and their answers are recorded below
Why did you decide to start blogging?
I initiated my main blog in August, 2007 after attending and being inspired by a talk at Lowdham Book Festival, Notts by a leading blogger who now writes professionally. I had previously experimented with blogs in a small way for field research and also ran a free traditional website for a while. I migrated all the previously written articles on the latter to The Tears of a Clown.
‘Tears of a Clown’ has reached 512,904 views. How do you feel that the privilege to communicate on a mass scale has been extended to anybody who has access to the Internet?
I enjoy the freedom to publish my thoughts, beliefs, experiences and knowledge in this way. Clearly, it is a great opportunity for anyone with something to say and my personal belief is that it should be respected. There were other online means previously, for example internet forums and some may claim that blogs have in some ways been superseded and outgrown by other social media such as micro-blogging etc. I still however, find it more satisfying, generally speaking, than those methods of communication. I do however, generally use these different means for different purposes.
How do you respond to the notion that blogging has undermined the privileged position occupied by journalists?
With barely suppressed hilarity I might say! Certain areas of the world of journalism undermine themselves on a regular basis with their irresponsibility and bias. Although I remain a fan and supporter of quality journalism, too many individuals and organisations have brought about their own downfall and therefore I have little sympathy that they are now being regularly challenged.
How do you respond to the opinion that, as a blogger, you are unfamiliar with the process of news gathering?
I respond by saying that I am not a journalist and don’t see my efforts at writing and communicating to be inextricably bound together with news gathering. In addition, my experiences of reading some (not all) newspapers is that their own journalists show themselves to be lamentably poor and indeed lazy, in regards to news gathering at times. I might cite the scanning by certain professional journalists of personal blogs and internet forae etc. for stories. If they use this information gathered to form their own story, with little basis other than a member of the public’s opinion, as I have witnessed them do, what does that say for the accuracy of their own published work?
How do you respond to the critique that blogs have received in that bloggers tend to value immediacy and comment as opposed to accuracy?
I would say that is sometimes a fair criticism. It has though to be remembered that most of us do not blog for a living and therefore only have a finite time to fact find – unlike professional journalists. In fairness, and as with journalists, I believe that there should be a certain responsibility upheld when publishing material on a blog. I attempt at all times to write what I reasonably understand as the truth before pressing the submit button. If I’m not convinced of something’s legitimacy I’ll tend to not publish it. I don’t too often write about contentious issues but I still think that’s a good yardstick to adhere to.
Do you think citizen journalism is fairly representative of the wider public?
If you mean by that, blogging then yes, I think it can be construed as reasonably representative. Of course that representation is by those of us who wish to write and communicate, inferring representation by a certain type of person or section of society. I struggle to understand at times how a journalist and his sub-editor could be seen as more representative in any case.
Would you say, blogs play a part in keeping journalists honest/holding them to account?
There are too many dishonest and biased examples of journalism still to be able to say that always works but I suppose it helps in that process. That the public have so much more opportunity for redress is a good thing in my view and perhaps, I’m not sure, it may occur to journalists that they may be taken to task in various places if people are in disagreement with their opinions and statements of ’fact’. A healthier state of affairs than existed previously I would suggest.
KITTY HUDSON WAS BORN IN ARNOLD, NOTTINGHAM in 1765, the granddaughter of Mr. White, a sexton of St. Mary’s Church, Nottingham who she was left with from a young age. During the latter part of that century, Kitty’s strange story became infamous and saw her achieve something of a minor celebrity status due to it’s extreme oddity.
Artist’s impression of Kitty Hudson.
Available at: http://www.ournottinghamshire.org.uk/page_id__973_path__0p32p.aspx (R B Parish)
As a young girl of six years, Kitty was detailed to help out in St. Mary’s in keeping the place of worship spick and span and worked with a servant at the church, a young woman who would give Kitty instructions as they worked alongside each other. It is said that the servant girl would implore that Kitty pick up and collect any dropped pins and needles while sweeping the pews and aisles of the church and reward the youngster with a stick of toffee for every mouthful that she produced. The young Arnold girl diligently set about collecting the pins and needles and storing them in her mouth as she went about her work and it becoming a firm habit. The habit became so engrained in fact that it was said that Kitty could barely sleep, eat or drink without the strange practise of storing pins and needles in her mouth, even to the point of constantly disturbing her sleep to replenish the store of pins and needles in her mouth, that she might rest peacefully. Friends recorded at this time that Kitty’s teeth were ground down almost to her gums.
After time, the young girl reported an enduring numbness in her limbs and intense pain along with difficulty in sleeping and was taken to hospital in August, 1783 after numerous failed treatments. With inflammation in her right arm, a pair of needles were discovered under the skin adjacent her wrist and were removed. Other needles were also found in her arm and painfully extracted.
In an incredible story, before Kitty was finally discharged from hospital in the summer of 1785, the sexton’s granddaughter underwent a long series of operations to remove huge numbers of pins, needles and bone from her arms, legs, feet and other parts of her body. Both Kitty’s breasts had to be removed as needles and pins were lodged around her breastbone. Amongst various alarming notes taken during her two-year plus incarceration in hospital it was recorded that Kitty passed a needle through her urine and also vomited a needle. The minutes from her hospital stay were said to be voluminous and of extreme interest to the medical profession.
There was an extraordinary ending to Kitty Hudson’s story as she survived her self induced ordeal and was discharged to go on to marry her childhood sweetheart from the town of Arnold. The young man, by the name of Goddard, had coincidentally been an out-patient at the same hospital, being treated for a head complaint from which he subsequently lost an eye. Her to-be-intended would cheer Kitty’s spirits by telling her he would marry her should her life ever be spared. The young Arnold girl would later claim that it was her sweetheart’s faith and love that delivered her through her many sufferings to become well again.
The young couple married and, incredibly, Kitty bore her partner nineteen children. In this period of history with infant mortality so high, the practice was for children of the parish to be Christened within three days of being born. Duly, eighteen of Kitty’s children were baptised though sadly just one survived infancy. That child, a daughter, died at just nineteen years of age.
During her later years, Kitty carried the post on foot from Arnold to Nottingham – a round walk of some eight miles – twice daily. She was described at this time as being six feet tall, stout and somewhat masculine in appearance. She would wear a small bonnet about her way and drab clothing of worsted stockings, a coarse woollen petticoat, strong shoes and with a leather post bag slung over her shoulder.
In 1814 Kitty’s husband died and she remarried to Henry Ludham of South Wingfield in Derbyshire where she bore no further children. Interestingly, her step son, Charles Ludlam the village shoemaker stated in the Marlborough Express of 1907 that the legacy of Kitty’s swallowing of pins and needles remained with her for the rest of her life. That journal recorded thus: ‘To the end of life pins and needles kept coming at intervals from her body. At first a black spot would appear and then it soon began to fester, the head next came in sight, and it was pulled out, and the wound soon healed.’ Her step son stated Kitty’s body to be as ‘a colander, full of tiny holes.’ .
In spite of this, Kitty was able to live a decent and good life and remained fit and able to carry out her daily duties until passing away at seventy years of age. So ended peacefully the remarkable story of Kitty Hudson, the human pin cushion of Arnold, Nottingham.