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Keystone Cops, A Windy Walk and A Boozy Banquet

December 23, 2012

Although I’m not religious, Christmas is my favourite time of year – a time to celebrate all that is good in life surrounded by my family.

Inevitably this year the festivities will be permeated with a sense of loss over my father, who died in April.  Still, with grandchildren everywhere, shrieking excitedly in a blizzard of wrapping paper, it’ll be impossible not to laugh a little… or even quite a lot!  Which is just what my parents would have wanted.

Never will I forget those magical Christmases of my childhood back in 50s Lancashire – reaching out in the dark to feel the lumpy shape of a pillowcase beside my bed, stuffed with presents.  There’d be a stocking too, a stocking full of goodies such as oranges and apples and assorted nuts.  Thanks, Mum.  Thanks, Dad.

Yes, Christmas is also a time for remembering the past, so I thought today I’d post another extract from my 1972 diary.  Having married the previous year, Stella and I lived in Leeswood, just a few miles over the Welsh border from Chester, where we both worked…

TUESDAY 16/05/72

An hilarious afternoon at work, down on the Dee.  Our task was to determine the depth of the river opposite Dee Lane Ferry.  Pete and Colin hired a boat and rowed downstream to rendezvous with Rob and I at the old stone jetty.  They would take soundings under our direction, a nice orderly operation, what could be simpler?  In the event, it was about as orderly as the Keystone Cops and ended up with Colin doing the splits between boat and jetty…splosh!  Aye, it was a survey with a difference all right!

MONDAY 29/05/72

Bank Holiday.  Cold and windy this afternoon, but undeterred we went to Loggerheads.  Plodded around for three hours, generally following the River Alyn – over tiny footbridges, past quaint stone cottages, under a towering limestone escarpment, through deep woods.  It was another world in the woods, a magical green world with sudden birdcalls and the furtive movement of small creatures.  We emerged on a ridge above the tree line with a panoramic view from Moel Famau to Moel Findeg.  It was a view compressed and rendered all the more dramatic by gathering storm clouds.  Must do it again someday.

The Loggerheads I visited with Stella was the one in Denbighshire, North Wales, not the village of the same name in Staffordshire.  At 1818 feet, Moel Famau is the highest peak in the Clwydian Range and easily identified by the Jubilee Tower at its summit.  Moel Findeg, to the east, is a small mountain overlooking the tiny village of Maelshafn.

FRIDAY 07/07/72

With Stella to Ruthin Castle for our medieval banquet.  It was noisy and cramped on the minibus but the atmosphere was jolly.  We sat with our friends John and Chris. The night was misty and the castle rose eerily from moat to battlements, like something from Arthurian legend.

A few drinks in the Armoury Bar, then we were summoned to the Presence Room, a stone-flagged chamber with flickering candles where, in days of old, the host would greet his guests.  After a short address from The First Lady of the Court, we followed the Baron and Baroness into the lofty Banqueting Hall.

Candelabra stood on bare wooden tables of stout construction laid with rows of daggers and finger bowls.  The Court Steward maintained a stream of lively banter from a small balcony whilst below two lady harpists strummed gently and other Ladies of the Court sang.

With bibs under chins, our mugs charged with Welsh mead and our pewter goblets with wine, we tucked in.  A delicious soup, which we drank straight from the bowl, was followed by lamb chops, which were remarkably tasty but greasy to hold in bare hands.  Next came chicken wings done in sweet herbs – ah, so tender.

By now everyone was a little tight and peels of ribald laughter rang through the hall.  Desert was a sort of medieval version of Angel Delight!

It was all very messy and primitive but great fun.  A young clog dancer was followed by our Ladies of the Court singing together as a choir, they by an excellent male singer who’d earlier won an award at Llangollen Eisteddfod.

Entertainment over, we repaired to the bar, there to guzzle until closing time!

The return journey was somewhat uninhibited with lewd jokes, bawdy songs and snogging all the way.  We were glad to escape!

Ruthin is the county town of Denbighshire, North Wales.  The castle dates from the late 13th century and stands on a red sandstone ridge overlooking the Vale of Clwyd.

Have a Merry Christmas, everyone, and a Happy New Year.

~~

Copyright © Paul Beech 2012

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