It’s late again and all I want to do is to sit by the fire with a cup of sweet tea. The foxing hours are upon us and the polecat is still on the loose but the hens are safely tucked up in their beds, safe for another night at least. And you are more than welcome to sit in the chair opposite me. It’s old but comfortable and when the embers die down please use the blanket that’s folded on the side. I think tonight, I shall play my guitar and sing a wee song my father taught me a long time ago. It’s called Streets of London. But before that, I shall tell you why I chose this song.
This evening I saw an old woman lying lifeless on the cold, wet road. She had just been hit by a car. I quickly reassured her that help was on the way. She was thin and poorly dressed. Someone nearby said she roams the streets day and night and is always alone. I was heartbroken! Staring down at this woman, some mothers child, I wondered who she was and where she’d come from. Her name she could not tell me. And now, in the comfort of my home, I remembered the song that tells a story about loneliness and people, just like the woman who now lies on a hospital bed, alone!
Close your eyes and listen to the lyrics. Picture the old lady and pray for her if you will.....
Have you seen the old man
In the closed-down market
Kicking up the paper,
with his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride
Hand held loosely at his side
Yesterday's paper telling yesterday's news
So how can you tell me you're lonely,
And say for you that the sun don't shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something to make you change your mind
Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the streets of London
Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?
She's no time for talking,
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home in two carrier bags.
In the all night cafe
At a quarter past eleven,
Same old man is sitting there on his own
Looking at the world
Over the rim of his tea-cup,
Each tea last an hour
Then he wanders home alone
And have you seen the old man
Outside the seaman's mission
Memory fading with
The medal ribbons that he wears.
In our winter city,
The rain cries a little pity
For one more forgotten hero
And a world that doesn't care
Do you know any lonely people? Make one phone call! Write one letter! A few words can make all the difference!
Ok, so this is a love story about two worms that live in the garden at our home for waifs and strays. I guess I might lose some readers, but hang on a minute! Worms have five hearts and breathe in air and breathe out carbon dioxide, just like us. So why not stay a bit longer? It wont take long. Their names are Wilma and Willmott.
‘Do it now!’ Wilma said. ‘While it’s dark!’
‘Why does it always have to be me?’ replied grumpy Willmott. ‘You know I’m afraid of the dark!’
‘You’re a grown worm,’ said Wilma. ‘Worms live in the dark and we need more air down here!’
‘But it’s scary up there. And those chickens bit off uncle Teds head, remember? I want to keep my head Wilma. Why don’t you do it for a change? I'm sure they wouldn't want your head!’
‘Willmott Wormery!’ Wilma shouted and some earth slide down the side of their sitting room, ‘you are a coward and Uncle Ted was a fool!’ she sounded very cross. ‘He went up in the daytime, what did he expect?’
‘Not to lose his head, that’s for certain!’ said Willmott quivering.
‘It’s dark now,’ said Wilma more gently, ‘I can’t go, I can hardly breathe!’
Willmott loved his wife. She was getting old and lucky to have survived as long as she had but that was probably because he had taken such good care of her, he thought. No, he couldn’t possible let her do it. He had to pluck up the courage and go himself.
As Willmott slid up to the top of their burrow, Wilma made the sign of the cross. ‘Don’t let anything happen to him,’ she said silently, ‘he’s a grumpy old so and so but I still love him.’
Willmott shivered as he stuck his head out into the open and breathed in the cool night air. It was good, he thought and almost forgot to check for predators.
‘Be quick!’ shouted Wilma. ‘before you lose your head too!'
Willmott began to drag bits of leaves and straw into the burrow. Wilma helped at this point, by reaching up to get them.
‘Ah that’s better already,’ she said. ‘I can breathe easier now.’
Willmott dragged some tiny stones into the entrance.
‘We’ll soon have lots more air in here Wilma,’ he said cheerfully. ‘Put some supper on! I’ll be down now in a minute!’ (Remember, these are welsh worms!)
Just as Wilma was about to prepare the food, she heard an almighty scream. It was poor Willmott.
‘It’s a chicken!’ he cried, his voice full of terror.
Wilma dropped everything and slid quickly up the burrow after poor Willmott.
‘He’s got me!’ shouted Willmott. ‘Goodbye Wilma!’
Poor Wilma struggled to the top to see that Willmott still had his head on and was smiling.
‘What on earth are you playing at Willmott?’ she said breathlessly.
Willmott turned and wrapped himself around Wilma. ‘I needed to know that you truly loved me,’ he said grinning, ‘and now I know that you do!’ Then he kissed her.
My father and I left home when I was just fifteen years old. My father remarried and I ran away and made a life of my own. By the time I was twenty three, I had travelled many miles and lived a thousand lives. My footprints are embedded in land across the globe. It is no wonder my head is spinning with tales to tell.
For some time, I lived amongst the Makah Indians in the wilds of the Pacific. It was here I fished amongst the great orcas in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Bartering with the Indians became a way of life; a life which I knew was totally illegal. I soon began to change and looked at everything in a completely different way. One couldn’t help but to do this, especially as I was so young and already felt I had lived a lifetime.
I played music in mountains more spectacular than those found in Switzerland (though I have been there also and they are indeed magnificent). I have done things perhaps I shouldn’t have done and risked my life a million times. My feet, though small, have worn out many shoes through trekking places less travelled. And my heart is engrained with enough stories to fill a thousand books. It’s no wonder I have little trouble finding tales to write for you on these dark winter's evenings...but I do need to finish my books.
Remember, whatever it is you are longing to do you, writing a book, travelling, a different way of cooking, visiting friends you haven’t seen for ages or painting, you must find a way to fit it into your life picture. It is as simple as that. You see, it is indeed later than you think!
Granny used to say I was a ‘wholesome child’ being brought up on her stolen cabbages and scrumped apples. I had a weekly bath in an old iron tub in front of the fire and always smelt of carbolic soap! The pantry consisted of dried and fresh herbs, plenty of fruit, lentils and vegetables galore. Potions were sealed in jars and placed out of my reach and there was always the smell of lavender. And in the garden we had lots of pet rabbits and chickens. These animal friends of mine would die mysteriously on a weekly basis and always when I was out. You know where this story is going and every word is true. But granny was a crafty witch so I never suspected the meat on my plate was Polly, Snowy or Willow. I discovered the truth many years later and was traumatised for life. So if this is what granny meant by wholesome, then I guess I was a wholesome child.
By the time I was seven, I could steal vegetables from a farmer’s field as good as any crook. Granny said the farmer had plenty and that he wouldn’t mind us taking some cabbages, potatoes, beetroot, parsnips, carrots and just about anything veggie you can think of. I stole all year round! Thankfully my stealing days ended when my father returned and granny had to go shopping. It was years later when the farmer confessed he knew about the theft and said it amused him to see granny and her friends teaching me how to eat and live well. I was mortified!
Yesterday, the memories of the stealing fields came flooding back, when someone in passing said I was wholesome! Yes, wholesome! I looked at myself in the mirror and frowned. I am not overweight (but could do with losing a kilo or two!)and my cheeks are not ruddy. My stealing days are over and granny and her friends are long dead. So what is wholesome?
If being wholesome means stealing from the farmer, then I do not qualify. But, if wholesome means eating a healthy diet, taking daily exercise and being a positive thinker, then I am in with a chance. However, I do love chocolate, swear occasionally (my kind and unassuming husband does not swear!) and I sometimes succumb to negativity. During these times my kind and unassuming husband always fills my cup until it’s half full and reminds me that there are more good people in the world than there are bad. Perhaps my kind and unassuming husband and others like him are more worthy of being called wholesome!
I’m not quite sure what it is about tea (a cup of sweet tea especially)that can cause the human race to drop everything and pour their hearts out over its vapours. My kind and unassuming husband is the exception as he has never drank a cup of tea in his entire life...very strange!
At our home for waifs and strays, the kettle rarely gets cold. There is always someone popping in for something or another, or just for a chat. I always switch the kettle on even before they are seated. And if I am busy, then the visitor will usually carry out the task automatically. It seems that this is a very Welsh thing to do.
It is almost as if everything dissolves in the steam that evaporates into your face. No worries, no stress, all washed away in a moments connection with the tea. If only it were that simple!
But for awhile, tea does seem to comfort people. It feels easier to talk perhaps, with ones hands wrapped around a hot cup or mug. Tea shops are becoming quite popular. I often meet up with friends and family in a tea shop by the sea. Just the thought of it makes me feel warm inside. No matter how far I roam, I will always look forward to a cup of tea at the other end.
There are so many types of teas today, far too many to mention here but I’m sure many of you would have tried at least one or two or even more. Just writing about it makes me want to put the kettle on. Just wait a moment please!
Watching the steam come from the kettle, even before I fill the teapot (we still use a teapot at our home for waifs and strays)makes me feel trapped in its spell....not a bad feeling, even if only for a moment!
Below is a poem I discovered and written by a woman called Naomi Shihab Nye...enjoy!
Tray by Naomi Shihab Nye
Even on a sorrowing day
the little white cups without handles
filled with steaming hot tea
in a circle on the tray,
and whatever we were able
to say or not say,
the tray would be passed,
we would sip
it was another way
lips could be speaking together,
opening on the hot rim,
swallowing in unison.