Littleborough 5


Number five


Back to our roots......

    ...... or more accurately, back to our root vegetables.


    We've been back in Lancashire nearly four years.

    There have been ups and downs. Far more ups actually but we find that the more we put in the more we get out, literally and figuratively.

    One thing's for sure, there's no need for inertia, there really is lots to do.

    For starters, there are plenty of events. Last week Littleborough brass band played in the park. Something like this is brilliant for the sloths among us because we don't have to do anything, except get there. Just sit and listen. It was part of a 'Poppy River' event. Poppies are of course symbolic of the great war but people were invited to place a poppy in memory of a loved one who had not returned from any conflict. The red river flowed down the hill in the park from the children's playground. It continued past the bandstand and on into no-man's land beyond. Quite a sight it was too. The band played a wonderfully tailored version of the last post and over a hundred people said a personal prayer in the late summer sunshine.


    Our return from a bohemian (with a bit of imagination) lifestyle to live in the hassle and frazzle of a modern world was an initial shock for us. A challenge to which we rose with our usual haphazard approach. Basically ignore what we can't change and trust to fate.

    Bills and invoices landed on the mat with alarming regularity. Those that weren't chewed by the dog had to be settled. In order to pay them we had to work. But where does a nearly sixty-year-old git find gainful employment? There was some cash coming in from the books I'd written but not enough to satisfy the blizzard of demands.

    I've had no formal training but I'm OK with my hands. I've kitted out three boats for example. Unfortunately demand for canal boats was limited in central Littleborough. For some reason not many people wanted cassette toilets, three kilowatt inverters or marinised diesel engines. Folk are more concerned with getting their gardening or decorating done for as little as possible.

    Budgetary relief came in the form of my step-branch of the family. They were moving up and up so I converted a garage to an office for them. Then I oversaw the renovation of a couple of houses they'd invested in. I enjoyed that so much (!*?) I did a further one for ourselves. This meant actually laying out some of our own cash so the pressure was on a bit. In between I built some fences, wooden garden adornments and various shelves and wardrobes. To be honest I was surprised how busy I'd become. I was equally surprised that there were plenty of people I came across who's benefits I was contributing to, some of whom drove much better cars than ours, and have bigger TVs and expensive communication equipment emblemed with a piece of fruit.

    Actually, what is nice is meeting the folk for whom I work. They are a bit nervous at first, after all I'm untried and untrusted. One thing perhaps in my favour is my age. I'm perceived perhaps to be an upright citizen (although you'd question that after a day's work when I'm found flat out trying to re-organize various muscles). Also I'm a local lad so can chat about the old days. This is rather fun because both me and my 'customers' are of a disposition where we've forgotten more than we remember. In fact sometimes it's a voyage of discovery where we disinter buried memories long confined to a musty bottom draw. (Isn't disinter a funny-looking word?)

    A couple of weeks ago I built a trellis for a lady. She lives in a house I used to visit fifty years ago. I'd go there to play with the children of a doctor who used to work with my Dad. Between the lady and myself we pieced together fragments of then and now. It was all quite a pleasant coincidence but neither of us could remember the names of the children, just that at least one of them had ginger hair. 

    It's like building a 3-D jigsaw where individual pieces are spread over both acreage and time. The nice thing is that the puzzle will never be finished, there is always something else to learn, another piece to fit.

    Then there's the health, irregularities of which were uncovered during an old git's MOT. Everybody my age will have one complaint or other. This point in life seems to creep up and I'm sure I'm not alone pondering what more we might have done with our time. Or perhaps, just as importantly, what things we'd have been better off not doing. At the end of the day it is pretty irrelevant, we are where we are. For now I'm thankful that I can work and walk and write.

    So, using two of those attributes, I walked to two local events yesterday and am now writing about them. Firstly a heritage event celebrating Littleborough's special women. My wife spent the weekend, in the company of three friends, dressed as suffragettes. They variously waved placards demanding 'rights' and the vote. Mind you she had put our dinner in the slow cooker before she went out.

    It's surprising who you bump into. In a house in a town in the foothills of the Pennines I had a chat with a couple from Newcastle (upon Tyne) who were staying in their caravan on a small site near Sowerby Bridge. They must have entered, 'Women, downtrodden and desperate' into an internet search engine and come up with Hare Hill House, Littleborough. Quite whether they'd expected to get tangled up with a hoard of noisy women in fancy dress, is anyone's guess. But their alternative this particular Sunday morning was the Great North Run in their home town. 'Not likely,' the chap said.

    One of the women we celebrated was midwife to Littleborough from around 1930. Ivy Ellis was little short of a heroine to many local families. Roughly twenty years before the NHS was formed, she would have battled all weather to help expectant Mums, sometimes arriving on horse and cart. With little more than a few towels, warm water and a fire in the grate, many local folk made their entrance. Through one of Ivy's relatives we had access to her photograph album. Photos of some fifty babies over twenty years are displayed during this heritage celebration. Many of the names are familiar and some of the tots of yesteryear will be the forebears of today's generation.

    The second event was the Hare Hill Allotment show. I've actually done a fair amount of work one way or another around the allotments, building sheds and fences for example, even a chicken run (that some wag named cluckingham palace). Consequently, I was keen to show my support for a healthy and popular activity. I've seen many workers upended in the undergrowth, tending their crops, so I was interested to see the results.

    It's being held in Littleborough Coach House and Heritage Centre, which according to the blurb 'is a Grade 2 Listed building of architectural and historical interest within an important conservation area. Dating from the late 18th century, it was originally built to serve the Bury horse-drawn coach traffic on the main transport routes into Yorkshire across Blackstone Edge'. (There, a bit of culture at last!)

    The first thing of note is that the show is upstairs, rather unkind on the exhibitors who had to lump their wares up a floor - some of the fruit and veg on display was of considerable size. There is a lift mind, but I ignore it and stagger up the stairs, keen to demonstrate my physical prowess. I arrive at the registration desk in a state of some distress.

    I am immediately relieved of a pound (the official visitor's entry fee) by the daughter-in-law of the man who used to help us in our garden forty years ago. He was called Reg Philpott – a splendid name for a gardener. What a nice man he was too. Barely has my coin landed in the re-cycled ice-cream carton, than I am relieved of a further pound for a raffle ticket. I can win a tempting basket of delicacies, a large proportion of which have come from the Coop. This seems rather incongruous when there is so much fresh produce not ten feet away in the display hall.

    'Right, thank you,' I say, and set off to the right, towards the exhibits. This is the familiar direction my wife and I have taken on a number of occasions when we have given our slide-show talks to various local groups. But I am thwarted.......

    'This way please.' 

    I am herded to the left. Towards the tombola where I am relived of another pound by the grand-daughter of the daughter-in-law of the man who used to help us in our garden forty years ago. So I can add another piece to our local jigsaw. She is a polite, bright young thing who has been carefully schooled in the art of relieving pounds from passing vegetable enthusiasts. Who can resist a pretty smile and a table full of goodies?

    I'm not normally lucky with tombolas but today I win. But I don't win a 'goody', I win a spiky plant in a paper cup called a septum (or something similar). My wife, I am sure, will be overwhelmed by my good fortune, if not the state of our finances.

    At last I'm in. Three room-long tables bear the fruits of the allotmenteers labours. Impressive they are too. Pumpkins, onions, carrots, raspberries, apples etc. Some of which are enormous and all of it looking fresh-from-the-sod healthy.

     A friend of mine and her associate are loitering.

    The associate persuades me to partake of the gardening quiz. Another pound – 'only'. I had taken the precaution of calling at the hole-in-the-wall en route from the suffragettes. Good job because I could easily have been financially embarrassed.

    I could answer so few quiz questions it was hardly worth me borrowing a pen. I only got two correct for certain. One was, 'who was Bill and Ben's friend in the 1960s TV show' and the other was a photograph that I identified of a shell-less terrestrial gastropod mollusc. Weed and slug were my correct answers – which rather gives you a clue as to my gardening capabilities.

    There was just time for me to be relieved of a further two pounds for some delicious-looking tomatoes and green beans. To be fair, I potentially have something to show for all the money I've invested. I won a prickly thing on the tombola, I might win the raffle, I might win the quiz (though that is unlikely, unless nobody else enters) and I have some lovely produce. I include the entry fee here because I have enjoyed chatting, looking and admiring.

    Most important of all I have joined in. There really is no excuse for 'having nothing to do' or being bored or lonely. There are all sorts of things to get involved with, new folks to meet, activities to try and jigsaws to complete.

    Community - it's what small towns like Littleborough thrive on, have done for centuries. Ours seems to be doing very nicely thank you.