Sunday 25 July 2010

14th Century Improprieties

I have been following Richard's blogs on the subject of Lincolnshire legends and was wondering whether the infamous Lincoln Imp would feature. I was not to be disappointed and on Friday there he was. I can proudly announce that such a fellow sits upon the kitchen wall here at Myrtle Cottage.

In April last year, I wrote about him and several other interesting features of Lincolnshire:

A Tale of Two Imps

Although I was born and raised in Middlesex, I spent the years from 1985 to 2007 in Lincolnshire. I used to live in Stamford, an old picturesque town that boasts the location of the magnificent Burghley House which has been used in many a TV serial or film. I remember sitting in my car at a set of traffic lights, on my return to work one lunchtime, and - looking in my rearview mirror - was taken aback to see a coach and four pull up behind me as it did it's round-the-block route for a take while Middlemarch was being filmed in the town. Very surreal.

Just down the road from where I used to work lay the remains of Joan, Princess of Wales - also known as the Fair Maid of Kent due to her great beauty - wife of the Black Prince and mother of Richard II. She was laid to rest in January 1386 in the grounds of Friars Minors, according to her wishes that she be buried in her chapel, but has found herself now located in a garden, due to the building of houses on the land!

I love early English history and I know that the following may not stir the ancestral blood of a lot of those who may read this, but I do have a strong fascination about our country's past and thought I would write one of those little slices of history blogs that I do every so often. To think I used to work a two minute - if that - walk away from where the mother of one of our Kings is buried in a leafy garden in a small town in Lincolnshire is kind of odd to say the least. Then there are the Eleanor Crosses. King Edward I had these crosses erected in memory of his wife, Eleanor of Castile, to mark the nightly resting-places along the route taken by her body as it was transported to London. It took twelve stops and at each of these a cross was built, of which three amazingly survive today (Geddington, Hardington and Waltham). The twelve places were Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Hardingstone, Stoney Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St Albans, Waltham, Westcheap (now Cheapside) and Charing (Charing Cross).

In those harsh days there is something so touching about the fact that he thought so much of his wife that he marked her last journey in such a way. And that three of the crosses still stand today in her memory (with pieces of some of the others in museums near the towns they were erected) is nothing short of a miracle.

I am also a sucker for folklore, and Lincolnshire, as every other county, has its fair share. According to legend, way back in the 14th Century, Satan sent two imps to earth with the prime objective of doing mischief. In some versions of the story, they first went to Chesterfield where they set upon the spire of the Cathedral and twisted it – their handiwork still in evidence today. They were then sent to Lincoln Cathedral to cause mayhem there. As the story goes, they set about their work with obvious glee, smashing up tables and chairs and even tripping up the poor Bishop. However, when they started to interfere with the Angel Choir, one of the angels decided that enough was enough and told them to stop. One of the imps was brave and started throwing rocks at the angel, but the other imp cowered under the broken tables and chairs. The angel turned the first imp to stone and this gave the second imp a chance to escape.

There are a few different variations of the story, one telling that the second imp that escaped did so with the help of a witch, by jumping on to her broomstick. However, she became so fond of the imp that she turned him into a black cat. Not so good for him really then. However, in another version, this escapee was said to have travelled to Grimsby where it entered St James' Church and began repeating its destructive behaviour. The angel then reappeared and gave the imp's backside a good thrashing before turning it to stone like its friend. The Grimsby Imp can still be seen in St James' Church, clinging to its sore bottom. Another legend has the escaped imp turned to stone just outside the cathedral, and sharp-eyed visitors can spot it on a South outside wall.

Other stories tell how only one imp was blown around the country by the wind looking for places to cause mischief, and following his efforts in Lincoln Cathedral the angel turned him to stone after he had gone to the top of the nearest pillar to admire his handywork. Hence he is found there today with his legs crossed sporting an evil grin upon his face.

A more detailed version goes into how he was sent to plague the clergy in the cathedral and how he was blown through the great west door by the west wind and blew out the candles, scattered the hymn sheets and attacked the choristers. He then flew into the angel choir and it was when he threatened to pluck out the angels’ feathers, that the smallest angel turned him to stone.

Whether you believe there were two, or just the one, or - indeed - if you do not believe it at all, measuring 12” in height, he is definitely still sitting there now, grinning down, cross-legged at all who pass below. He has become the symbol of the City of Lincoln, has the local football team named after him and is used on many a company logo. He has become the symbol for good over evil. My late ex-mother-in-law had a tiny model of one in her kitchen – as, indeed, do I.

It is a shame that there are no records kept of who carved such gargoyles and effigies in our massive Cathedrals. It would make an interesting read indeed as to the background of their existence.

Anyway, if any of you find yourself in Lincolnshire at any time, a visit to the Cathedral in the county’s capital is a must – not just for the beauty of the architecture - but to see, also, if you can spot the miscreant for yourself. Apart from that, old Lincoln is a beautiful place to visit, perched on top of a hill, with cobbled stones up the narrow streets and still some old buildings in existence down the lane that leads to the less picturesque modern part of the city. Jousting events are held in the castle grounds each year and it is a marvel to see, and hear, the knights riding through the cobbled old part of Lincoln on their way to the tournament, kitted out in full armour and colours, with a lady’s favour fluttering in the breeze as it hangs from their lance.

As the Visit Lincolnshire website states “As you approach the City of Lincoln, from any direction, you are drawn to the magnificent silhouette of the Cathedral stretching to the skies, brooding over 2000 years of history”.

He may only be two and a quarter inches tall, and certainly not what you would call an attractive chap, but I have grown very fond of his impish features as he poses cross-legged and casts his wickedly gleeful stare over the kitchen.

Representations of two very different imps that reside in Myrtle Cottage:

Monday 19 July 2010

My absence excuses

I admit that I have been missing from the blogosphere for a bit lately, for no reason other than I have been otherwise engaged with this and that, and that and this.

There was my birthday weekend during which both my darling daughters came to visit. This was a three-pronged event – celebrate mama’s birthday, chief bridesmaid and bride to practice bride’s hair and make-up for the big event in September, and mother to practice the cake-making for the centre piece. To say the kitchen was inundated with cake was an understatement of gross proportions. And that was without the required 30cm chocolate cake (due to the tin not arriving in time) so a 23cm and 7cm duo were prepared instead. And there was birthday cake! Ah a sponge addict’s dream.

Then there was the ill-fated rainy day trip to the supermarket. This was to be no Asda amble, but a stick-to-the-list dash in order to facilitate the exit of the premises as quickly as possible. Although this was accomplished with a certain amount of panache, the whole exercise was somewhat spoilt by the fact that the oaf behind me had reversed into his/her spot and parked almost bumper to bumper with the CFZ vehicle that the opening of the boot was somewhat of a squeeze. I did think of stamping a foot, blowing fire from my nostrils and moving our car with great theatrics in order to enable the boot to swing open to its fullest extent, but came to the conclusion that, as the offending driver was nowhere to be seen, such a potential Oscar-winning performance would be wasted on an otherwise uninterested car park. So I loaded the boot from a strange angle, and just as I was lifting the large package of cat food I felt a ping in my left side and realised that the next few days would be spent in a half-crone position. I would, in other words, be doing a pretty good dramatic impression of the wicked old hag in Hansel and Gretel.

Then came Hopalong Cassidy in the shape of my not-so-often-mentioned tortoiseshell cat Poppy McGregor. She is not mentioned much in the daily goings on around CFZ HQ because she is, and always has been, a wanderer. She goes missing on her jaunts for days on end throughout the year and does not get up to so many antics (at least not for our entertainment – who knows what she gets up to on her travels) as her errant brother Spider McGraw (aka the ginger cat). However, she came in with her left front leg dangling in a most peculiar fashion and was spotted first by Helen, our housekeeper. It became apparent, upon closer investigation, that she (Poppy that is, not Helen) had somehow got her collar caught under her leg and was obviously under much discomfort; a state gleaned from the sounds of her hissing and growling as we tried to remove it. In the end, it was a job for the scissors, but we could not get the collar to move from underneath her leg – it seemed to be stuck, and there was no way we could just pull it off at that particular moment as she was getting extremely agitated with all the attention (she is not one for attention at the best of times – unless on her own terms). I was fearing the worse that she had perhaps got a nasty oozy infection from a cut made by the collar, but it came off shortly afterwards and she was, thank goodness, none the worse for wear, and she is now back to her usual self.

Then came Biggles and his odd turn that Jon wrote about on the blog. That was most peculiar. He had been fine all day and had been curled up asleep until it was time for his night-time visit to the garden before going to bed. It was when he went outside that he became obviously out of sorts – likened to someone who had over-imbibed at the pub, and had suffered that horrid effect of the air hitting them when they left the bar’s cosiness to go home. It was a night of no sleep for me whilst I lay on the floor with Biggles until he went to sleep and then kept a careful eye on him throughout the night to make sure he was OK. By the end of the next day, he was basically back to his normal self. I am assuming that he must have eaten something that he shouldn’t – as Jon wrote, he did have an unhealthy eye on a toad the other night so perhaps whilst under cover of darkness, and while we were not watching, he managed to grab one after all.

Added to all these ‘events’ there have been several peculiar and tiresome episodes such as the leak in the bedroom ceiling dripping annoyingly into a bucket all night and the occasion when Helios 7 came in squeaking and mewling with excited anticipation for instant attention on account of her returning home with a dead mole. I am not too sure why she should feel so proud of herself under such circumstances, but then she is a cat, and they are such odd individuals at the best of times. Looking at the departed creature, I could not help but think of Moley in The Wind in the Willows and became rather melancholic at the thought of the poor little beast’s demise at the jaws and paws of Helios.

And there you have it – a short prĂ©cis of the events that have occurred during the past weeks. It looks to be a busy couple of weeks coming up too, but I shall endeavour to try my best to update my blog a little more regularly than of late.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Biggles is re-surfacing with gusto

Biggles' fans are wondering where he has got to. To let you into a secret, he had been sulking for ages after his operation and has been hesitant to show himself in fear of the girls out there scoffing at his predicament. However, he has now gotten used to the idea and has probably realised this now means that he can mix with members of the opposite sex at will, without fear of them fraternising or getting himself into any awkward paternity suits.

He has been busy in the garden these last weeks, mainly chasing anybody with a watering can and then making a bit of a fool of himself trying to catch the water from it. We must not forget – of course – the frequent infamous rake chases. He has managed to basically destroy four – yes four – Frisbees over these halcyon days of summer, despite the fact that at least two of them were supposed to be indestructible. Perhaps Frisbee makers should hire him to test out their theories. He is actually quite adept at leaping in the air and catching them on the trot - he really should have been in the England goal perhaps. However, the ball would probably not have fared quite so well, methinks. I have to say though that the lawn looks a bit like a disused ufo landing site, with half broken plastic discs dotted reminiscent of those old World War air fields full of the skeletons of disused and rusting aeroplanes that once flew so smoothly. Ah well, it keeps him happy.

He is still attempting a major takeover bid of the bed each night. I am sure his eventual aim is to claim it all for himself and over the past few nights both Jon and I have ended up dangling our posteriors over the edge of the bed, without the comfort of a duvet covering them, as Biggles has somehow managed to gather it around him in the middle of the bed.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Thea has the key of the door

My youngest niece has a special day today

Happy 21st Birthday

Hope you have a great day and tea party at the weekend
(and don't forget that sticky bun lark either 'smirk' - I await photos!)