It’s quicker and easier to look things up online than in the weighty volumes of the Oxford Universal Dictionary over on the bookshelf, so I’ve just found the definition of “apostrophe” on dictionary .com and it pretty much sums up this blog:
a digression in the form of an address to someone not present […]
After all, you who are reading this are not present, and that first paragraph is itself a digression: I intended to start here at the Old School House –
– and continue by commenting that when I wrote yesterday’s post apostrophising and being (dia)critical of the local school leavers’ fête and the sad inadequacies of modern education, I had forgotten that my original idea was to write about St Swithin’s Day, which had passed unremarked the day before.
It rained on Friday, so we can expect plenty more rain for the next six weeks, but there’s more to the tradition than a 40-day weather forecast: I’m told that St Swithin’s is also Apple Christening Day and if it rains on July 15th, you can start to eat the apples.
Of course this may not be the whole story, as I’ve been hearing the folk version filtered through my aged mother’s memory. The apple tree she remembers from her childhood was a Beauty of Bath, an early variety that doesn’t keep well, and I suspect that her father was just attempting damage limitation on the rest of the fruit in the garden.
Despite the fact they were christened the day before the photo was taken, I didn’t think the apples hanging over the fence at the Old School House looked very appetising when I passed them on my way from the village shop, so I decided not to go scrumping.
Apples seem such an English fruit that I’m wondering whether other languages would have words for stealing them; perhaps Mediterranean countries have specific words for pilfering figs, grapes or olives.
I wonder, too, how many other words there are for stealing other foodstuffs. You can poach fish or game, and rustle livestock, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn of dialect words for when rabbits get into the kitchen garden and eat all the radishes, when blue tits peel the foil lids from milk bottles to get at the cream – or, indeed, when drunks pinch the milk bottles off the doorstep on the way home from an all-nighter.
It’s strange how memory works – how long-dormant words and images flash to mind unexpectedly. I don’t suppose I’d have thought of scrumping if I hadn’t been talking about St Swithin’s Day, and I mentioned last weekend how the scent of lime blossom reminded me of living in Spain.
When browsing the vitamins and remedies in the drugstore, the selection of evening-primrose oils never makes me think of fishing near Half Penny Bridge, but the tall spikes of yellow flowers in my mother’s back garden brought back that memory and many others of a visit to my uncle and aunt some fifty years ago.
Yesterday, my mother watched me taking pictures of other flowers around her garden and her thoughts went back to nursery songs.
But although she taught me her version of Lavender Blue over 50 years ago, the scent rising each time I knocked against the flowers smothered that memory and conjured instead a clear image of the lavender bag my aunt made for me on that long-ago visit: a triangle of peach satin decorated with a fake white gardenia. I remember feeling it was a very grown-up gift.
But memories can’t be commanded and this one remains incomplete: I wonder what I actually did with it when all that my underwear drawer contained would have been navy bloomers and sensible vests.
I don’t have many poems that feature underwear of any sort, so am going to have to settle for re-posting this one, which was published in 2009 in the South Bank Poetry Magazine and also included in my book Around the Corner from Hope Street.
Nine o’clock in shades of grey
The sky, a solid lid on thoughts, constrains
and limits flights of fancy as I ride the bus
to work on Monday morning. I watch
through mud-spattered windows, jolted
past gravelled parks where leaden evergreens obtrude
from fog. In high-rise flats, once-snowy nets
are turned to slush behind dull glass. Stone walls
and pebble-dashing act as magnets to attract
the dust. Grey-skinned commuters wait
at greyer bus stops.
Outside the Town Hall,
laurel lollipops stand sentinel around
the corporation buildings, dull as salmon
caught in a bad still-life.
Inside, I know it smells of stale ash
and the cold-coffee paintwork of my office
flakes in silence.
Even my new business suit
is dark, sensible charcoal.
hidden from this colour-sapping world,
I sport a satin petticoat and panties
with pink roses. My step is light,
the half-smile ready
to blossom into song.