Wonderful Wife

There once lived a lad down Cripplegate way in London, who was sweet on a young girl, and whom he thought was sweet on him from the looks she gave. He just didn’t ask her out, he couldn’t, you see, on account of his ‘trade’. Not that she was stuck up or posh, it’s just that he felt she deserved better, being well brought up like. You see, he earned his living collecting muck off the streets, usually dog muck, to help soften the shoe leather. He was a tanner’s bucket boy, though if anyone asked he would say ‘in the shoemaking trade’. And he was honest, too honest, some said, for his own good and kept himself clean, as clean as he could, anyway, those days.

One day in town, he spotted a gold sovereign in the gutter. He looked around and saw a gentleman about to buy a newspaper. Thinking it might be his, he went up to the gentleman and offered him his coin back. ‘Excuse me, sir, is this yours?’ The old man looked at him in surprise, ‘Thank you, young man, you have restored my faith in human nature. What is it you do?’ The young man began to say he was in the shoemaking trade but the gentleman was looking at him so intently that he burst out, ‘I’m a tanner’s bucket boy, sir, but one day I hope to be a proper shoe maker!’ ‘Really now, well, maybe, I can help. I have a cousin who has his own shoemaking business. I’ll see if he needs a new apprentice. Meet me here same time tomorrow!’ And with that he was off.

The boy was so excited, picturing a great future for himself but as time moved on the next day and with no sign of the gentleman, he thought how stupid he’d been to expect the gentleman to help him. He was just about to leave when the old man came hurrying round the corner. ‘Sorry I’m late but it’s all arranged. You start tomorrow and seeing how you’re an honest lad, I’ll pay your apprentice fees. You can pay me back later.’

And so the lad started and he worked all the hours he could get to learn his trade and over the years became so skilled at it, he could sew 64 stitches to the inch and at such speed too when needed. His apprenticeship was soon over and the gentleman came and said, ‘Let me pay your freeman’s fees, so you can work. It’s an investment.’

And so the lad worked for the old man’s cousin and started to earn some money but not enough to look after the young girl he still thought about…for he hadn’t forgotten her. And he hoped she hadn’t forgotten all about him. He went to see her and he was right, she hadn’t and he asked her if she’d like to go out walking with him and she said…yes!

Where they went to, walking and talking and other doings, depended much on the seasons. In the winter, they’d stroll along the riverside, appreciating the light on the water and the waves in the wind. On summer evenings, they both loved to stroll arm-in-arm along Golden Lane, where the goldsmiths worked outside on the pavement, making the most of the late evening light. He noted the way the worked, the detail. She loved the quality of the objects, the design, and they both enjoyed the sparkle.

On one of their walks one day, he got a bit carried away and asked her to marry him. He could only afford a cheap thin band of gold for her wedding ring but she didn’t mind that, said it was the loveliest wedding ring ever. Still, he noted the big gold rings with diamonds she looked at most and vowed one day he would buy her one.

The young man worked all the hours he could to save up for a house and start a family but it was a struggle. He could pay his way but not put enough behind him working for someone else. Then, one day, the old gentleman came to visit, said his cousin was getting too old to be working full-time and would he like to be a half-partner in the business. Soon, he was able to buy a house with two bedrooms and a garden next to St Giles church in Cripplegate…just in time, as it happens, as first one child, then a second were born in the house. Soon, there were four little ones. Just as well they had space to build on in the garden.

He was becoming prosperous now and generous too, remembering his start in life, and often supported younger people with dreams of their own. And he was able to buy his wife a wonderful gold ring with a brilliant, shiny diamond on top, worthy of his wife. She loved it yet still kept her thin gold ring on. She never took it off.

He still worked very long hours and his work often took him away from home. People were interested in the shoe making business, especially now as you could make them on machines…which is why he wasn’t at home when his wife fell ill.

She took to her bed and had difficulty breathing and couldn’t be roused. They called for the doctor who came but found no pulse, no breath. He said sorry but there was nothing he could do. The husband came home at once, hating himself for not being there, telling himself, if only he’d been there, maybe, he could have done something.

But it had all happened so quickly and there was no time to dig a grave. The children were sent to a neighbour’s while he almost stumbled alongside his wife’s coffin to the church next door. She was placed in the crypt overnight and, after one last look at her pale face, they nailed down the coffin lid…but not before the sexton had noticed the great diamond ring.

‘She’ll not need that now, will she?’, he muttered and, that night, took the keys to the crypt, a candle to light his way and, just in case of need, a knife to come in handy with him down the steps and into the crypt. In the darkness, he prized off the lid of the coffin and took her hand. It was cold. The large ring stuck a bit over the cold knuckle as he tugged before sliding over and coming off easily. He was just about to replace the lid when he saw the glint of a ring on her other hand. ‘Waste not, want not! I’ll have that as well.’ But this time, the ring would not pass over the knuckle.  So, he picked up his knife and began to saw away at cold flesh, hitting bone.’

The pain seared through the wife, cut through the numbness and the darkness and released her from her deathly coma. The sexton, terrified, dropped everything and fled as fast as he could up the stairs away from this ghost. The wife found strength to climb out of the coffin and, taking the candle, up the stairs, making her way to her front door, where she was reunited with her joyful husband. After all, it was the thin band of gold that had saved her life and brought her back to her husband.

It’s said that they had four more children together till she was finally laid to rest in the churchyard at St Giles, Cripplegate.

 

With thanks to storyteller, Helen East (www.eastorywilsound.co.uk ), for her telling of this story after hearing a story of a wife who had come back to life again after robbers had tried to take her wedding ring, published in The Anthology of English Folk Tales, Society for Storytelling by The History Press

 

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William and the Bull

William was a fiddle player, the finest of his generation, and whenever there was a celebration in his beloved county of Dorset, he was asked to play.

One hot Saturday in July, a couple were getting married. William played the bride down the aisle. He played while their vows they exchanged and joyfully as the left the church to go to their wedding feast with all their guests.

It is often said a good fiddle player can charm the beasts of the field and the creatures of the air. Not so far away in nearby Wiltshire, they hold that a fiddle player, playing on Christmas eve, can make the beasts in the barn bow down their heads in supplication.

This was in the great barn in the village and everybody was invited. Tables groaned under the weight of hocks and hams and cheeses, breads and pans of soup and stew, as well as flagons of ale, cider and bottles of wines. And William played all the popular tunes of the day for them, as they ate.

It was the custom in those days to thank the musician with food – they brought him slices of beef and ham and pickle. Most of all, they left him glasses of beer and cider, then the odd brandy. And William played and everybody was having a great time.

The tables were moved to the side to make ready for the dancing and the fiddler carried on playing, people plying him with more drink. After the happy couple, everyone got up to dance to the music. And William went through his whole repertoire of popular folk and dance songs, taking a draft of this or that in between…and the dancing went on late into the night and William will admit he had got a little tipsy…

…which probably explains why he decided to take a short cut across the field. He wouldn’t normally go home that way but it was a clear, warm night with a big full moon high up in the sky above. Over the gate and into the field he climbed, meandering towards the middle, unaware of the passing Milky Way through the summer triangle of stars. Exactly half way, as far from one gate to the other he could be, he heard the guttural snorts of the bull in the field and it was heading towards him, pacing faster, blowing hot breath through its nostrils.

What to do?! William remembered the old tales of playing music for the animals and quickly took his bow to his fiddle and started playing for all he was worth. And the bull paused in coming at him, seemingly listening to the tunes, silhouetted in the moonshine. So, he carried on playing but each time he stopped, the bull became agitated and started towards him. William quickly started up again and the bull paused advancing. He played all the songs he knew and after what felt like hours, he was still no nearer escaping the bull in the field.

The trouble was, he was running out of tunes. He’d played all the ones he knew and was still no nearer the far gate. A sheep rattled past, stuck in the middle with ewe. Meanwhile, the bull didn’t take its eyes off William and he was tiring fast. He looked fondly over his shoulder at the gate but he’d not outrun an angry bull from where he was. Then, he remembered the Christmas story of the animals in the barn and started to play a carol. The bull dipped its head to the ground and closed its eyes, listening to the tune, hallelujah. Still playing, William backed towards the exit and, judging the moment, turned and ran as fast as he could, heart pounding, legs bending, till he threw himself, panting, over the gate.

Safe once more, he looked back across the field. The bull was getting to its feet. It snorted once, then turned away.

On fine summer nights, many will tell you, in the beautiful Dorset countryside, you may still hear among the leaves in the trees the magical sound of the fiddle playing.

 

With thanks to Tim Laycock, a folk musician, storyteller and actor, who lives in Dorset for his telling of this story in The Anthology of English Folk Tales, The Society for Storytelling , published by The History Press.

 

 

The Summer Triangle

A king had a daughter, Altair, whom he loved dearly. She was a weaver and made all the king’s clothes and everyone elses too. He decided one day she needed a husband, so searched everywhere till he found a handsome cowheard, Vega. They fell in love instantly and were wed.

The couple do what romantic couples do and overtime neglect the jobs they used to do. The king’s cattle grew thinner, milk weaker and scattered all over the milky way.

The people were running out of clothes. And when the king’s royal robes wore so thin, almost see through, he said enough was enough and ordered them to stay either side of the milky way and get back to work.

This they did but were so sad because they did not see each other anymore. Altair pleaded with her father to let her see her husband if only for once a year. The king loved his daughter and listened to her. He decided that every year on the 7 July, the loving couple could come together…which is why if you look up at the stars for the summer triangle of Altair, Vega and Deneb on that night, the lovers look like they are touching.

This is why in Japan and Korea, they throw a massive party to celebrate the couple being reunited, if only for one night. It’s worth it because everyone is clothed and the milk is plentiful and good.

Yet ask a physicist and one will tell you this is an illusion. If your car travelled through space at 100 miles per hour, it would take Altair 150 billion years to be with her lover.

 

Moving chairs

A friend tried to manoeuvre his wheelchair into position in the circle before meeting for worship this morning but there wasn’t enough room to make the turn. So, I got up and moved a couple of chairs to help him. ‘Move chairs, I’m a teacher. That’s what I do.’ And as I settled down into stillness, I started to reflect on another, more emotive meaning of the word ‘moving’.

‘It’s my mum’s birthday today’, I continued in ministry. ‘Or it would have been. She’d be 86. She died early last year, a week before my birthday. She was kind that way. For her 80th birthday, we had a cake made with a sugar craft model of my mum, sitting on the couch. All I have left is the remote control and the cushion. In her later years, she watched a lot of tele but when she was young, I don’t remember her ever sitting down. She was always on the go, except when we visited my Nan’s. Then, they would talk for hours in the kitchen about everything, me sitting under the leg of the table on a red, leatherette poof, captive.

Last week, I applied for a part-time role as a peace worker, going into schools, secondary and primary. I had to write a supporting statement of two sides of A4 and a c/v. I hadn’t needed a c/v for 30 years! On Friday, I found out I didn’t get any of the training roles and that’s fine. The charity I’d applied to is based in Sheffield and, if you read the papers yesterday, there have been 14 murders of young people by young people in Sheffield in the past month. I don’t think I could do this. It’s too hard, this work. Still, there is the possibility of a place on a conflict resolution course, which might lead somewhere. Let’s see.

Last Sunday was Area Meeting for Worship for Business. On the Monday, I felt I had to write a blogpost about it and fitted it into my workday. Then, on Tuesday, I wrote the beginning of a script for my homework on the Lost Cats Radio presenters’ course I’m doing over six weeks. It imagined the first part of an interview with my community choir’s musical director. It went well. I enjoyed it, moving slide controls while talking at the same time. On Wednesday evening, I facilitated a workshop, called Transitional Stories, for my local Transition Town group. Someone even offered me work…before they’d seen me! It was all old stuff I’d done before but the combination I put together for this brief was new. Thecevening was a success. They want me back.

Afterwards, slightly late, I set off to meet up with my partner in a café bar. She’s been having a really tough time at work recently. When I found her, she was sitting on a bar stool, drinking a beer, behaving inappropriately with another man, a kind stranger, she said. I understand why she did it. He was just being nice to her after a horrible day but it didn’t mean anything to her. I feel sad.

When Thursday evening came, I thought I can’t sing in our choir rehearsal. But I went, anyway, and we sang the Kyrie from Karl Jenkin’s The Armed Man mass and it was good and I came away healing. Find what you enjoy and practise it. It is healing when you need it.

I was still on my feet in meeting. ‘Quaker worship is amazing. Sitting here in the stillness, opening inwardly, then outwardly to let the spirit in, it feels natural to me now but it is so different, alien even, to others. When you move chairs, think of the people who sit on them. We don’t always know what is going on for them or what they’re like. We may think we do.

And for the people sitting on the chairs, others won’t know what’s going on for you. Sometimes you have to share with them, to be open to be asked.

Right, then, who’d like to be Treasurer?

I was attending Area Meeting for Worship for Business (I know…) on a hot, sunny afternoon indoors and a speaker was talking to us about our ‘ministry’. ‘What do you believe?’ he asked.

It led me back to me remembering my first coming to meeting for worship. It took me time before I accepted and valued coming here regularly, before I finally decided this is the place for me and stopped wandering. ‘No point in having a faith, if you don’t do something with it, is there?’ he challenged us. And I remembered my first trip to Southport meeting for a ‘One World Day’ event. What a great day, that was! We could take the kids. They loved playing under a parachute and running round the garden and playing cricket too, I recall. I discovered more about Nestle and baby milk and Fairtrade and put faces to names. ‘Oh, there are more Quakers outside Liverpool’, I thought.

The speaker continued, ‘What does it mean to be an Area Meeting together?’ It led me on to a ‘Turning the Tide’ workshop at Bolton Meeting. I’d gone there with Joyce in her car. It was a time in the late 1980s when I was feeling particularly powerless to face the ideological onslaught against the notion of ‘society’, which is now bearing fruit. And ‘Turning the Tide’ offered a way of demonstrating non-violent, direct action, which offered hope as well as practical strategies…and introduced me to more Quakers outside our Area Meeting. I started to feel and still do that this Religious Society is a happening place, a friendly, spirit-led society, looking both inwards and outwards.

‘And how do you get a sense of what an Area Meeting is about?’ the speaker asked us to consider and respond to these questions in worship sharing. There are things happening here and there, Transition Town, Sanctuary meetings but I had no sense of the Area Meeting’s ministry and spoke so. ‘I could be mistaken but I think we have lost our way a little bit. We need to rediscover our ministry…’

The speaker, who had been with us all day, reflected back to us. He’d heard lots of examples of ministry taking place. Isle of Man meeting spoke of being a small meeting with relatively few people, distant from the mainland, but felt the importance of being there, showing there’s a different way. We’d heard that movingly and passionately stated in the report prepared on an IoM friend’s application for membership. Her first time in a Quaker meeting resonated with me. Liverpool, bearing witness in a big city, is a sanctuary meeting. St Helens, I knew, opened their doors on Friday and Saturday evenings to offer people, susceptible to drink and drug misuse, a safe space to come and be themselves, even though the meeting was struggling with not enough people to do all the work. Southport meeting has its inter-faith work.

‘You have all talked about your own individual ministry…what brings you here each Sunday…the holy spirit, God, the children and young people, shared food and community, even the way the light falls in the building…you are just not talking about it! When you stitch together what you do, it offers an amazing tapestry of ministry.’

We’ve started. Friends are beginning to visit each other’s meetings for worship and fellowship. There is an events team in place, organising the Area Meeting Gathering at Glenthorne next February (15-17th). And we’re putting in place a Nominations’ team for Area Meeting. And names are coming forward with a new Overseer and a deputy rep for Quaker Life Representative Council, appointed for three years’ service…which brings me to the role of Area Meeting Treasurer. Who’d like to be on the team..?

The treasurer’s role, our clerk of meeting, informed us, comprises of:

  • taking care of cash and signing cheques
  • reporting on finances to Area Meeting
  • prepare accounts for the Charity Commission
  • collect contributions from Local Meetings for Friends’ House (Britain Yearly Meeting)
  • collect contributions from Local Meetings for Northern Friends’ Peace Board.

We heard how the outgoing treasurer had outsourced the bulk of this work to an accountancy firm, making the role much simpler. We’d already agreed that it made sense to have a treasurer’s team. Two friends from Liverpool have already agreed for their names to go forward. One of these will be the Treasurer. But now we’re stuck. We need still two more friends from other Local Meetings to join the team. Who feels called, friends..?

Quaker Faith and Practice 10.03

The Religious Society of Friends is organised into local meetings, each of which should be a community. It is our search for God’s way that has drawn us together. In our meeting we can each hope to find love, support, challenge, practical help and a sense of belonging. We should bring ourselves as we are, whatever our age, our strength, our weakness; and be able to share friendship and warmth.

Some of us now live away from our families; some of us move house quite often. Although surrounded by others we may be leading isolated and lonely lives. It is important that our meetings welcome newcomers warmly and that we include them in invitations to our homes.

Our sense of community does not depend on all professing identical beliefs, for it grows from worshipping together, knowing one another, loving one another, accepting responsibilities, sharing and working together. We will be helped by tried and tested Quaker methods and procedures, but the meeting will only live if we develop a sense of community, which includes children and adults alike. If all those who belong to our meeting are lovingly cared for, the guidance of the spirit will be a reality. The celebration and commemoration of life’s great events draw us together as we share the occasion and rejoice or mourn with one another.

Our shared experience of waiting for God’s guidance in our meetings for worship and for church affairs, together with careful listening and gentleness of heart, forms the basis on which we can live out a life of love with and for each other and for those outside our community.

1994

spiritoso, self-nominated convenour of washing-up committee (with my own podium), sub-committee of catering committee

espalier

Hello, Bud, what you up to?

I’m thinking of you at a tricky time for you. In relationships, try not to judge. Listen to where the words come from. And try empathy. For work, you’ll know now the challenge ahead. You will need to lean on people, to ask for what you need, don’t be afraid. You also have great gifts.Contemplate first before acting. And I am with you. You are a lovely person. Be love and love will be with you.

God 🙂 x

We’re the same

It all starts one Sunday morning as I go about setting up the kitchen area for tea and biscuits for after Meeting for Worship. Two women friends were talking by the hatch. Suddenly, one of them asked me, ‘Are men controlling..?’ ‘Yes’, I said straight way. ‘It’s an ego thing, I think…but when you learn to let it go, it’s wonderful, liberating. You don’t have to feel responsible for everything and can share with others. Why do you ask?’, I looked at her. Her husband had told her the evening before she wasn’t ironing his shirt right. His mother had taught him the right way to iron and she wasn’t doing it the right way.’ ‘Oh, well, mothers do have a lot to answer for,’ I smiled, ‘and men also have to take responsibility..!’

During meeting for worship, a friend ministered on the nature of violence. He’d recently been on a peace vigil in Chester where a placard had upset him. It spoke of a bombing in Yemen of a marriage party in which 20 people were killed, including the bride and 20 children injured. He went on to talk about members of the Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Gay and Transgender (LGBT) community, whose lives are still affected by prejudice and violence. ‘Where’, he asked, ‘is Love in all this?’ And we fell into stillness again.

It prompted me to think about my recent visit to Goodison Park to watch a football match. I found myself on my feet, ministering too. When I’d gone there as a boy and a teenager, though committed by a minority, there was violence all around. Most people going were there to watch the football, but violence or the fear of it was ever-present, every week, in your face and inescapable, at least, so it seemed to me then. Nowadays, there is a much safer and friendlier atmosphere. So, what has changed in that time? Well, there are many more women and girls going to the match together now. In the 1970s, you hardly ever saw a girl at the match. The police and football authorities and clubs have all done a lot of work over the years to deal with this problem, so maybe they started coming because it was safer, rather than making it safe…or maybe, one leads to the other..?

The night before, I continued in ministry, I was talking to a friend about the new production of Othello at the Liverpool Everyman. The lead role is played by a black woman who is a lesbian. ‘How will that work?’, I asked

Brian Roberts

her. ‘I mean, how plausible is that? You rarely hear of women carrying out acts of violence, and certainly not murder…do you? It’s mainly men. So, I just wonder how believable it will be..?’

After meeting for worship, drying the cups and saucers, one of the women friends commented that women got a ‘good press’. She felt they were just as capable as men of searing rage and jealousy, leading to acts of violence. It made me think how, in Greek tragedy, women like Clytemnestra murdered her husband, Agamemnon, with her lover, only to be murdered herself by her son and daughter, Electra, in revenge. ‘I know there are cases where women commit violent acts, but they’re relatively rare, aren’t they? I mean, statistically, most domestic crime is male on female…it’s something to do with power..?’ And a friend said, ‘It’s because the crowd’s mixed they’re friendlier now…and, yes, power has a lot to do with it…or the lack of it..?’ We finished the drying and packed all the mugs away.

‘And men tend to be stronger, bigger than women…that has an effect too…’ I thought of portrayals of male and female characters I’d watched recently on television. Orange is the New Black shows women in prison in many different lights. And This Country too is a mockumentary about typical life today in a rural village in England today, which veers towards stereotyping, while unfolding kinder relationships between the characters, if you care about them.

It made me think about violence and what it looks like. I’d been thinking mostly about physical violence but I’ve read that most violence that takes place is passive-aggressive or non-verbal. I know many people find this difficult to believe but it does cause a great deal of hurt and then harm to people. Thinking about the morning’s big question, I felt women, on the whole, were more able to solve the ‘ironing’ conundrum without resorting to violence, cooperating in a peaceful, collaborative fashion. ‘Umm’, my friend said, ‘sometimes, all women groups can be really vicious.’

And I left it there. It’s funny the things that come up in meeting for worship. And I’d thought it was going to be a relatively quiet one, just after the reading aloud of the Advice and Query number 11,

Be honest with yourself. What unpalatable truths might you be evading? When you recognise your shortcomings, do not let that discourage you. In worship together we can find the assurance of God’s love and the strength to go on with renewed courage.

Later, that afternoon, I went with a friend to the pictures to watch a new film, ‘Beast’. I thought it was fascinating, set on an island and written like a fable. My friend thought it overlong and clichéd in parts. A series of abductions and murders of young girls and women have taken place on the island and the lead male character becomes a main suspect. Does his girlfriend believe him, trust him? She has her own problems, having once stabbed a fellow schoolgirl, we think, who was bullying her, or so she said. We watch as people play out their roles in the family, in the police; see the group mentality of a close knit community take hold at times; feel at times buoyed and freed up and at other times confined and bound by the sea. We are all asked to identify the Beast, the killer, but it felt at different times that a beast was in all the characters.

Talking about it with my friend afterwards, she felt it portrayed human nature grimly while I said the number of questions it asks is amazing. I felt humanity came out of it alright. They’re the ones you only see in blur or silhouette. They play the bit parts in the movie, sitting al fresco eating their meal or playing with their children on the beach or ‘cowboys and cowgirls’ dancing their moves in the bar on Country night. Although you barely noticed them, as the action raced, it was then I felt the love.