For me one of the things quintessentially British is the parish church: as communal hubs for millennia they, even in our secular age, link us to the past in a way that few other things can, and while I’m not particularly religious I appreciate their importance and enjoy my visits to them; the English ones in particular, because the Victorians reinstated stained glass and ornate screens making them aesthetically beautiful and easy on the eye.
Up and down the country a small irregular army of volunteers maintain and look after these places: unsung heroes who give up a portion of their free time each week to perform the routine tasks that occasional visitors such as myself generally take for granted. One such man is Ian Ferriday.
Ian, or Golden Wonder as he’s affectionately known, is a former marathon runner who moved to Grasmere from Manchester over forty years ago to work and pursue his sporting interests. The determination and single-mindedness required for racing extended to other aspects of his life and his interests are both numerous and eclectic. Once a week he ascends the church tower at St Oswalds to wind the clock and last week I went along with him.
The spiral steps leading up the medieval tower are narrow and windowless, which makes it difficult to know where you are in relation to the building and it’s not until we emerge on the platform behind the clock that you get a sense of scale.
The acoustics within the small chamber amplify sound and the whirs, clicks, wheels and chimes create a musical repertoire that is both hypnotic and reassuring in its regularity, like a heartbeat.
Ian winds the clock with a crank handle and the action reminds me of the opening scene from the seventies kids programme Camberwick Green where the guy winds down the credits by pulling the crank towards him then pushing it over making an arc of his body. It’s a good ten minute work-out that left Ian unable to speak for a minute or two afterwards. We then moved up to the roof for a panoramic uncluttered view of the surrounding area.
At twilight we returned to hoist the flag for Easter Sunday. When I asked why we were doing it on Saturday night he said
‘You know what folk are like round here – They’ll be up and about early walking their dogs and going for papers and if the flag isn’t flying there’ll be complaints; but I’m buggered if I’m getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning to climb the tower so I put it up the night before when it’s dark and this way they’re none the wiser.’
Customs and traditions that have become diluted or obsolete, and pass unnoticed in our towns and cities are pronounced and upheld in these villages. It’s part of the glue that binds people together.
Ian’s ‘Yam med’ Stew
Stewing beef or mince, potatoes, carrots, swede, white cabbage, broth mix, mushrooms, bay leaf, Worcester sauce, stock cubes and gravy granules.
Put one cup of broth mix in a large pan and bring to the boil, then simmer for half an hour. Prepare the vegetables and when broth mix is ready add one large bay leaf, a dash of Worcester sauce, salt and pepper to taste and any herbs you may fancy. Add stock cubes to taste and the meat and vegetables. Use gravy granules to thicken the mixture to your liking: top up with water to cover all then bring to boil and let it bubble away gently for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally until you’re satisfied that it is done.
Any of the vegetables may be left out if desired.
Git yokked inti’l it.
Next week: Dorothy and the President