Saturday, 3 March 2012

Drink to Me

It’s been a long time since I last wrote my blog so I’ve decided to start again. This is my first blog of 2012. So far this year has been a bit of a bummer. Any of you who follow Lyn’s blog: Spyder's Corner will probably know about some of my woes this year. That’s actually one of the reasons that I’ve started again, I think in a way it will help me a little to write this, so here goes. Don’t worry I don’t intend it to be all doom and gloom! I’m actually looking for any ups I can find at the moment.

It all kicked off in January when I lost beloved Alistair, he was my brother in law and he died of legionnaires disease. Then in February I lost my mother to pneumonia and complications, she was 83. Obviously my sister and I were devastated to lose our mum but it is somehow more acceptable knowing that she had completed her journey and left us wonderful memories. Alistair was far harder, he was younger than me and a double blow for my sister, losing her husband and her mother in such a short space of time has been hard for her but we are now trying to look for some light ahead. So I’m not going to dwell on this any more, instead I want to put some happiness into our thoughts.

I’m going to begin by recapping what my sister and I think of as a marvellous comic moment on the day of Alistair’s funeral, it’s almost like he was watching over us and laughing. So here is the tale. Alistair was a true Scotsman, he liked a wee dram with a pint of Stella or two and was an ardent Partick Thistle supporter.

My sister and I met a wonderful priest to conduct the service for him in Christchurch Priory, he was a Texan, and he was just what we wanted, he was off beat, had a sense of humour (essential when dealing with either me or my sister) and as he recapped some of the stories about his American free church experience (Alistair’s parents background was free church of Scotland) we knew he was ideal. He came up with a wonderful service in the knave at the Priory and each time we asked for something special he was very accommodating. I thought I was pushing my luck when I asked him “Do you think it would be in order to a have a bottle of Glenfiddich on the coffin for Alistair?” He pondered for a moment and then said in a wonderful American southern drawl, “Well what are we saying here, are we saying that the good Lord didn’t drink. He drank wine. So are we saying we shouldn’t drink when our Lord did, in moderation, of course, no I think we can only accept the fact that he drank and I really don’t have a problem with this but the verger might.” We asked the verger and he didn’t mind in the least. So it was arranged.

Our next bit of luck was meeting Terry, the undertaker who was recommended by our cousin Pam. Don’t quite know how else you can suss out an undertaker ( He was wonderful, we kept throwing challenges at him and he kept coming back with an answer. We wanted a piper, no problem. We wanted his brothers to carry the coffin, no problem. We wanted him to put this bottle of Glenfiddich on the coffin along with a Partick Thistle flag and a picture, no problem. Weirder still, we said to Terry “Would it be possible to come to the chapel of rest on the night before the funeral with his brothers and sisters to have a wee dram with Alistair as we gather around his coffin?” Er? No problem he said. We arrived and it was all set up for us, I came with a bottle of The Balvenie Doublewood single malt, which Alistair had given me after returning from the Outer Hebrides last summer and I had kept it to share with him on a special occasion. I could think of no better event than this, so we all stood around Alistair as his brother 'Roddy' said a few words and then another of his brothers took some of the whisky and put it on Alistair's lips to share with him. It was a very poignant evening that I will never forget.

The next day at the funeral we carried Alistair into the priory, there were six of us and the flag, the picture and the bottle of Glenfiddich was duly placed on his coffin for the service. After the Priory service we took Alistair to the local Crematorium and our Texas priest and piper, followed and really did their stuff, it was an excellent service and in the background, Terry, our undertaker was grasping the bottle of Glenfiddich, which was once again placed on the coffin, with the flag and the picture. At the end Terry once again took charge of the Glenfiddich and placed it into the funeral car for safe keeping.

We had arranged not really a wake, more of a celebration for every one at his local Pub in Christchurch. We did think of going elsewhere but in the end both sis and I agreed that this is where he spent a lot of his time and it somehow felt right to be there with everyone who he drank with, he really did have a lot of friends here. We had already instructed Terry where to take and drop us off after the Crematorium.

As the three cars arrived outside of Alistair's local, the car doors were opened for us and we all began to get out. Sis and I were in the lead car with Terry. We clambered out, helped other relatives and started heading towards the pub entrance. There was a sudden smashing sound and we all looked round, only to see the bottle of Glenfiddich slowly disappearing down into the gutter. Terry, bless him, had put the bottle back into it’s container and when he picked it up, the metal bottom of it gave way and the bottle had simply slipped out onto the ground, right out side Alistair's local. After all the trouble Terry had taken getting it there, it had smashed into the gutter and soaked away! The best thing that I will never forget is the look on Terry’s face. "I'm so sorry!" He said turning bright red and then white. He is a professional undertaker and if the ground could have opened up and swallowed him he would have happily let it! Terry looked from Sis to me and back to Sis, who looked at me and then slowly smiled, then along with me, burst out laughing with tears in our eyes. We somehow knew it was Alistair saying “Look if I can’t drink that whisky there is no way you lot are going to!”

The conclusion to this little tale occurred several hours later … The door opened and Terry walked into the pub clutching a Waitrose bag, he opened it and pulled out a bottle of Glenfiddich and placed it onto the bar, he really didn’t have to do that but he did. So, needless to say I now introduce Terry as “my undertaker.”

As an aside to this I found these whilst researching my mum's eulogy:


Stranger ! Approach this spot with gravity !
John Brown is filling his last cavity.

Epitaph of an unknown dentist

I am ready to meet my Maker.

Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal
of meeting me is another matter.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Wild Bill J. B. Hickok Killed by the assassin Jack M'Call
In Deadwood, Black Hills Aug. 2d 1876

Pard, we will meet again in the Happy Hunting Ground
To part no more, Goodbye

J. B Hickok, "Wild Bill"


Dean Martin


Bette Davis

A Genius of Comedy His Talent Brought Joy
and Laughter to All the World.

Oliver Hardy

As the flowers are all made sweeter by the sunshine and the dew,
So this old world is made brighter by the lives
Of folks like you

Bonnie Parker



Karl Marx


Jayne Mansfield


Francis Albert Sinatra

And then there were famous last words (Bogeys my favourite) :-

Barrymore, John (1882-1942)
"Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a
conventional thing to happen to him."

Bogart, Humphrey (1899-1957)
"I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis."

Costello, Lou (1906-1959)
"That was the best ice-cream soda I ever tasted."

Coward, Noel (1899-1973)
"Goodnight my darlings, I'll see you tomorrow."
(On retiring to bed.)

Gandhi, Indira (1917-1984)
"I don't mind if my life goes in the service of the nation. If I die
today every drop of my blood will invigorate the nation."
(Assassinated by Sikh militants the following day.)

Presley, Elvis (1935-1977)
"I hope I haven't bored you."
(Conclusion of his last press conference.)

Wells, Herbert George (1866-1946)
"Go away... I'm all right."

Crosby, Bing (1903-1977)
"That was a great game of golf, fellers."

Washington, George (1732-1799)
"It is well, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go."

and finally...My Wings Favourite

Picasso, Pablo (1881-1973)
"Drink to me."

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

If you go down to the woods today. Sway Treacle Mining

There is no doubt about it, I live in a pretty strange part of the world. Don't get me wrong, I love it here, I've lived here since I was a small boy. The New Forest is a beautiful part of the U.K. and as a result it has attracted over the years some pretty wonderful people. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a house in the forest and Alice Liddle (Alice in Wonderland) is buried in Lyndhurst Churchyard. But there are stranger stories that I have heard which definitely need further investigation. Sway Treacle Mines is one such tale.
Each time I've heard the tale told, the listener usually has a peculiar grin which is then followed by a strange chicken-like-laughter known as chuckling (if you've never heard a chicken laugh you need to get here soon!) I must confess that the first time I heard the tale I suffered the same symptoms. However, since receiving a mysterious phone call last Sunday I fear that my laughter may have been a little premature.
The phone call was from a Mr Tate, a resident of Sway for many years. He asked me to meet him at a secret location, where, he said 'the truth of the myth would be proved'.
I met Mr Tate late last Monday, just before dusk outside of Setthorns enclosure. He then led me to the secret location, about a mile into the enclosure, he then turned and led me to a small bush like shrub and beckoned me closer. 'This is it!' He explained. 'This is the key to the story. This is the missing plant of the Forest - the treacaldii suagardii'!
Not being an expert on such matters, I enquired why nobody else had ever mentioned the existence of such a plant. Mr Tate explained that the plant name had been removed from all records during the eighteenth century. The reason for this was because of the conspiracy set up by the sugar importers. The plant has a very sweet flavour and a natural stickiness, the sugar importers feared that if such a plant were to become widespread, then obviously their business would suffer.
When I asked Mr Tate how he had come to know of such a plant, he admitted that he had been searching for it constantly for the last 50 years. He'd come to know of it's existence from his grandfather, a My Llyle, who had sworn him to secrecy during his lifetime.
I took a closer look at this amazing plant and discovered that it was, in fact, slowly but surely dying. Mr Tate said that this was probably due to the light - the opening in the tree cover had only recently occured and the extra light was not helping the rare plants survival.
The myth of the treacle mines themselves was explained: A few members of the New Forest community started to dig holes within the woods, the holes would then be covered and camouflaged and the forbidden plant grown within them. A rare blend of black market treacle followed which was richly sought after.
Unfortunately, the black market treacle smugglers were to come to a sticky end! The sugar importers employed a group of men known as the 'trafia', their job was to seek out and destroy all 'mines' and their plants. Needless to say, they were very successful and the 'treacaldii sugardii' was not seen or heard of again, until now of course.
Mr Tate and myself took the precaution of removing this last plant from the forest floor to protect it from prying eyes and heavy feet. I hope that Mr Tate will have success in propagating further plants and, who knows, there could well be treacle mines in Sway once more.
Sway is a wonderful place. I'm going to show you around it here today. This picture on the right was taken in Setthorns and this one here is taken at Longslade bottom.
I got a little nostalgic today as I reseached this piece and I thought you might like this vid I made, sorry about the wind noise...

Sunday, 12 June 2011

New Forest 'Yeti' Discovered

Today I had 'Yeti' another slight Victor Meldrew Moment. I was in Tesco's buying some broccoli and realised that I was going to pay, by weight, for the stalk that I was going to cut off and throw away. What's the point of that I ask you?......Can you guess what I did before purchase?...I don't believe it!
My anger puts me in mind of 'Yeti another abominable tale'.......there's a pun there , trust me...! Quite a few years ago now I was carefully propping up the bar in a popular New Forest hostelry when I happened to bump into that elusive character, - Mr Tate. 'The very man!' says he. 'Why?' I asked,' has our treacle plant matured so soon?' 'Oh no,' said Tatie, ' but there are some strange 'appenings goin on 'ereabouts. It's all to do with some strange animal sightings.' The plot thickened.

I've heard of similar strange happenings on Exmoor in Somerset, where many people have reported the sightings of a large cat-like creature roaming the moors and sometimes damaging property. There are similar stories from Scotland and Yorkshire of large 'cats'.
Many folk believe that the cats could be a remnant from prehistoric times. Could it just be possible that these wild cats are still roaming free in modern Britain? And what has been sighted here in the New Forest? Is this the New Forest 'Yeti', yet again?
According to Tatie, several of his friends had spotted the Yeti walking home from the pub one night. (Sorry I'll re-phrase that last sentence) Taties friends were walking home from the pub one night when they spotted the Yeti ( I think I liked it better the first time around. I wonder what it drinks?) . I asked Tatie the obvious question; ' were your friends in an inebriated state, and if so, can we be sure that it wasn't pink elephants they were seeing?' After several seconds thought, Tatie informed me that they were all totally plastered! I rest my case!
Not being one to let sleeping dogs lie I decided to continue with my investigation. Tatie pointed out his friends at the other end of the room, trying to hold the bar still with a gentle leaning action. As we approached them I realised that they were probably in a similar state of intoxication as on the night in question. Determining this state is not easy as most foresters believe that if you can lie on the floor without holding on, you're not drunk!
Several drinks and lengthy conversations later, I found that I was none the wiser about the mystery. However, my old instinct told me that there was something amiss. If I used the information that I had gleaned from Taties' friends I should be looking for a seven foot hairy midget with two heads, eight feet and big ears. There was only one answer to my dilemma and consequently I instigated a fresh search for the thing,....after closing time of course!
In my book, seeing is believing and anyone who has ever seen four men doing the conga whilst looking for the New Forest Yeti certainly wouldn't believe it! After about half a mile or so the much talked about Yeti appeared, right on cue. Taties friends disappeared into the undergrowth shouting and screaming . Tatie and I were totally bewildered as we stood before the seven foot hairy midget with two heads, eight feet and big ears....because it looked remarkably like two small donkeys!
In the cool light of day (and sobriety!) the explanation becomes obvious . What we had come across in the dark was a pair of New Forest donkeys! As Tatie pointed out 'at one time there were hundreds of 'em'. They were bred specifically for the Forest, they were smaller than normal donkeys. Why were they smaller you may well ask? The answer is easy. They bred these small donkeys for use in the nearby treacle mines, didn't they?

The New Forest has some pretty unique inhabitants, here I'm talking about the animals. The Forest is 900 years old, created by King William the First in 1079 as his private hunting ground, it's around 141,000 acres and the animals who graze here have all the rights. They are owned by foresters who are allowed to graze them here (it's called forest rights and controlled by the Verderers and their court) When you travel through the New Forest on the roads you have to remember that the ponies, donkeys, cows and pigs (the pigs are put out in the autumn to eat the acorns, the acorns kill New Forest ponies if they eat them but not the pigs, it's called pannage. and the right goes back for many hundreds of years) always have the right of way. You have to stop for them as they roam around grazing. In 2009 113 mares(41 killed) and 46 foals(24 killed) were injured in road accidents. More are actually killed by local people driving too fast than tourists.