Monday 21 May 2012

Memories of a Godfather

NOT that sort of a Godfather! Good grief, this posting has nowt to do with the mafia, no! Seemingly when we are christened we are given Godparents, folks who are meant to stand in should anything happen the parents and ensure they bring you up in a God fearing way (or something like that!)

So, apparently, many years ago, Shep was bundled into a church to be christened. I don't recall any of this but there is some sort of strange photographic proof that indeed three people are gathered around a bundle shrouded in a white robe, the bundle seemingly was me, the three people had been specially chosen to have the 'honour' of being my Godparents. Two women and one man, apparently coz I'm a female Shep - my brother had two men and one woman coz he's a male (but not a shep!)

Shep couldn't have asked for better Godparents. A maiden Aunt from my fathers side became a great friend as I grew older, a large lady with a huge personality, a positive soul (which was needed when faced with double leg amputations), someone who possessed a huge heart, never spoke ill of anyone and had an infectious sense of humour. She was an absolute gem.

Then there was my mothers younger sister and her husband. Another Aunt and Uncle. My Uncle farmed, a tenant farmer, and many a happy holiday was spent at theirs alongside my two cousins (who were both boys, one slightly older and one slightly younger than myself). A mixed farm and by today's scale a small farm. A farm which one would probably struggle to make a living off in this day and age.

I loved it when I was shipped off to my Aunty and Uncles for a holiday, although I couldn't understand why I always used to bunk up with the lads at bed time and then suddenly found myself 'shed off' into a bedroom of my own as I got older, seemed unfair and anti social at the time.

They lived in a fairly typical cold farmhouse, stone floored dairy full of wellies and leggings and all sorts of strange farming paraphernalia. The kitchen smelt of carbolic soap and milk, umm...... I can smell it now. My Aunty used to make proper butter, the tastiest butter I have ever eaten in my life, plastered onto freshly baked scones and I was in heaven!

I would trot after my Uncle to 'help' bring the dairy cows in for milking. One of my earliest recollections of the 'farm' was of being in tears. I laugh now, almost cringe with embarrassment in fact. I could have been no more than a toddler as I followed the cows as they plunged their way up a track towards the milking byre. It had obviously been very wet weather and the track would be an awful slutter up, a true clart, a sea of mud and cow pats. Shep's little short toddler wellies didn't hold up to the depth of goo and before I knew it the goo went over the top of the wellies and slopped down to foot level. The tears started! (How did I ever make it into the profession I have?) My Uncle scooped me up in his strong arms (even though I was wailing)and didn't set me down again until there was some dry ground for my tender feet!

The years went by, cousins and I were allowed to pick the potatoes, eventually a tattie harvester was used and the job seemed easier if you were quick enough than running around the field with a bucket. We lifted turnips, now there's a tale to tell............ Youngest cousin and I set off one frosty morning with turnip knives in hands to lift turnips. I'm not too sure that permission had been granted, I think we had just decided it would be good fun and helpful!

Turnip knives are a little bit like a small sickle, a wooden handle with a curved and very sharp iron blade which has a bent hooky bit on the end. The turnips are in the ground, most of them above ground. With a sweep of the knife the hooky bit gets lodged into the flesh of the turnip enabling you to lift it out of the ground, drop it into your spare hand then deftly top and tail the beast with the curved blade of the knife. All was going well until my cousin got his finger in the way when topping and tailing. Oh my god! There was blood everywhere....... now what do we do? We'll get into trouble for this of that there's no doubt! It was a long way back up the lonnen (lane) to the safety of home but we got there eventually, leaving a trail of blood for anyone to follow. We didn't really get into trouble of course, although a strong lesson was learnt (my cousin went into banking in his adult life - probably a safer option!)

My godparents were hugely supportive throughout my formative years and probably had a huge role to play in determining my career. As I grew older and was deemed to be more responsible I no longer received an Easter egg to spread all over my face at Easter time, instead I received a pet lamb - my very own pet lamb! The very first was a black, bluefaced leicester ewe lamb which I aptly christened Sooty. Of course my Uncle bred Bluefaced leicesters and way back in those days black ones were taboo, I loved her tho' and she did get sold for breeding as well which was a great boost, all organised by my Uncle no less! I no longer had a pet lamb but I did have some pennies in the bank, it took the pain away!

Friday nights were cards nights, us and them would wile away Friday nights in front of the fire playing either Canasta or a game called Oh Hell! I was in my teens by this time and always looked forward to Friday nights. My Uncle had a great sense of humour and was a very patient, kind and caring person who had a pet name for his wife (my Aunt) of bunny (I always thought this was so sweet, especially from such a tough and hardened countryman such as himself).

He had 'cauliflower' ears. I never understood this in my early years, I fully understand now. Chilblains on his ears. Way back in those days a farmer wouldn't be seen dead wearing anything on his head other than a cloth cap. Over exposure to the harsh winter elements over the years had given cause for the edges of his ears to become almost deformed, a phenomena which in my very early years had me pondering about often, you have to remember, it was rude to stare and even ruder to ask.

A great sportsman, cricket, badminton and football in particular, a love which he handed down to his two sons. I liked neither cricket nor football - the ball was hard and could hurt. They were strong and proficient and could really wack a cricket ball and as for football, I was often put in goal and that leather ball really stung if you tried to stop it! I totally refused to play rat cricket. A great pastime I was always told!

Rat cricket was a winter sport. Corn grown on the farm was blown into the loft above the cow byres and then rats took up residence. Being great sportsmen and finding their cricket bats lying idle during these winter days the 'boys' had great sport wolloping rats off the rafters of the loft with their cricket bats, even way back in those days I had an absolute hatred of rats and no amount of cajoling would get me to join them in their sport! ( I think I have probably embellished this story, they wouldn't use their prized cricket bats would they?? I do believe shovels and broom shanks were probably what were used)

Time went on, I left home and started work. Uncle came to the rescue when I moved from one job to another and had no where to keep my 'pack' ewes which were in lamb. He took them onto his farm, lambed them for me and I turned up at the mart and sold them with lambs at foot.

It was just a couple of years later when early retirement was forced upon him. A hard decision to make, but due to farmers lung he was struggling to cope and the farm wasn't big enough to keep his eldest son as well. Years of dealing with loose corn in the loft, which was fed into a crusher, a noisy contraction which smashed the stuff up to make it safer and easier for animals to digest and also threw out a tremendous amount of chaff and dust coupled with dust from straw and hay was taking it's toll. Retirement was forced upon him and Shep couldn't bear to go to the farm stock sale, in fact I have never been past the farm since; the farm buildings are now a mini village, the farmhouse will be unrecognizable from when I knew it and I really have no wish to return.

It was a miracle, my Uncles health improved when he retired into a house which was centrally heated and he no longer had to deal with all those particles of dust and mites which his lungs had battled with for years. His retirement proved to be a happy one , gardening, sport and woodworking kept him out of mischief, I think my Aunt probably missed the farm more than he in the long run.

So there you have a wee few of my memories of my Godfather. My parents did a splendid job of choosing my three Godparents, they all had a huge and positive impact on my life. I now have only one left, it is what happens as folks get older, none of us will live for ever.

This posting has been written in advance, the date and time it is published is hugely significant.

I arrived back from my lambing on the 13th May. Last Christmas I sent out my usual round robin Christmas letter which stated to all and sundry that this would probably be my last lambing over the border and no one was to have a crisis whilst I was away, between the 1st April and the 13th May I was selfishly going to enjoy what may well be my last year with them their cheviots - God help you all if anyone spoils it!

I was well aware things weren't well with my Uncle, I even dongled on the computer for ages to enable me to order flowers to be delivered to my Aunt.

I received the 'phone call when I got home, to inform me that indeed he had passed away, on the evening of the 12th.

Now for someone whom I had loved dearly and who had reiterated that love, someone who sadly was suffering from Alzhiemers, I was awe struck that he seemed to wait until my lambing was over, I also thought it quite poignant that he 'chose' the farming term date an' all - probably coincidence, but I ain't so sure!

This posting will be published as I am gathered at the crematorium with all of those who have special memories of this particular man, as we celebrate his life and his love for life. The best Godfather I could have asked for, and hey! I get a day off at long last, a day to mix with my family and smile and laugh - Bless 'im!


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