Not Yet

what’s on your mind? I asked.

After some thought

It’s just…

What is it I asked putting my hand on his shoulder…

It’s just…When is the end?

Not yet I explained and I don’t know when but not now.

We talked about wheelchairs and stairlifts and all the other (in)conveniences that were better than the end because

We are still here together.

And can do something.

So sod the rest.

Let’s have fish and chips shall we?

Of mushrooms and maggots

Which is the finest wild food? This changes with the season but one mushroom—the cep, the porcini, known in English as the Penny Bun—has risen from the forest floor to stake its claim.

I’ve been dreading writing this: the story of the king mushroom.

The problem with ceps is that they decay very quickly. When small they retain their form longer, but the larger specimens, when the spongy under-flesh has already matured to yellow or green, will putrefy if left too long. You can keep them in the fridge for a few days, where they may exude small white maggots overnight.

Keep them in the fridge with the caps uppermost on a plate. That way you can remove the maggots.

The old meaning of the word ‘maggot’ comes from the notion of a maggot in the brain, hence ‘maggotry’ as folly or absurdity; the maggot itself is a whim, a fancy, a crotchet. And that’s exactly what the cep does—it worms its way into your thinking.

Ceps are wild until you get to know them, then they become familiar. The sheen of skin on their caps is tanned like a beechwood cutting board. They are highly seasonal but somewhat irregular in their appearance. When a wood blooms with ceps there is nothing quite like it.

No doubt one among many, I have fallen to my knees with more than just the careful action of a paring knife on my mind. In and around Sheffield, the late summer and early autumn provide the better opportunities for finding ceps, although this year there was a good mid-summer harvest. They are stately, statuesque fungi with no gills but innumerable tiny tubes, vertically clustered under the upper flesh of a cap that glistens after rain.

They come eight days after the rain…

Unless you have a penchant for formal mycology, by far the best way to learn about this mushroom and consume it safely is to forage in the company of an experienced collector.

The collectors vary. The most annoying is ‘someone’. Particularly someone who has gotten to the ceps before you. Someone is most frustrating, particularly when you know them…

Those of us who love carefully slithering the earth from the foot of the cep hate the clean, horizontally-sliced stems of the professional collector. We are jealous of their 10 or 15 or 20 sites, gathered over time, each one in season, neatly successive.

Always pick a cep when you find one. They never grow again.

Wild food ceps 3

There’s money in them there hills. Selling ceps can be a profitable business if—and it’s a big ‘if’—you have a market. Where I learned to collect, in the Dordogne, France there was a wholesaler on the western edge of Les Eyzies who bought ceps by the kilo and transformed them into conserves.

It was near there that I first leapt from a car and gathered some indistinct boletus, hoping to have my first haul. These turned out to be the magical—in the Tommy Cooper sense of the word—Rubroboletus satanas. Their lurid red and promisingly putrescent flesh should have warned me. It took a visit to the chemist in my village, where they pronounced, with appropriate seriousness and through (I now realise) suppressed laughter, the mushroom’s name: le bolet de satan.

You know they are up when you see the cars parked everywhere.

It was with unrivalled joy that I first found ceps around Sheffield. I’d lived here for about four years and was walking in woodland looking at tree carvings. There were many soldiers’ initials carved nearby along a row of beech trees, past which WWI recruits or conscripts must have walked.

The footpaths are good. You get that little bit more light.

Wild food ceps 1

An older man in his late 60s was walking slowly under the trees, prodding the turf with a stick. What was he looking for? “Mushrooms.”

I watched the tip of his stick in the grass. As he pushed aside a tuft, there appeared a tiny button cep. He bent down to pick it up and put it in his bag with many others. I followed him for some time.

“I’m not English. I’ve been here a long time and I love coming to collect these mushrooms. I’ve got more time now. I only pick them when they are really small like this. That’s when they’re best.”

Wild as they can only be, and with no practical means of commercial production, it’s their value that domesticates them—and, of course, their consumption. Extraordinarily anthropomorphising in their effect, they reverse our journey to the soil, yet so soon they return.

When you get a snowy winter…

For those of you who know this already, a cep wood is some sight. When silent, it glitters with ‘next time’.

I cooked mine with charcoal burners and scotch bonnets.

The Myth of the Nettle

What is it that holds us to the earth? Sensing gravity, giving it meaning. How do we grow roots in a place when we don’t quite recognise the smell of the soil?

Angga came to the UK in 1997 as a child, a minor, with his sister, two brothers and parents, his father a doctoral student from Indonesia. Living 15 years in Pitsmoor, attending Fir Vale School, after university in Liverpool the tripling of loss and unexplored trauma led him to some dark and very lonely places.

Where could he turn, a man too stoic to share with those more stoic than him? To whom might he address himself in his vulnerability?

From this question, Men Up North was born in Sheffield in 2017. Groups have since been formed in Chesterfield, Newcastle, Hull and elsewhere, and there’s one member in North America. Men together: listening, hearing, supporting.

I met Angga recently when, as a facilitator for Men Up North in Sheffield, he had been tasked with finding an outdoor space which they could, in some way, tame or tend to. A green space, an island, a retreat into which they could gather and work themselves into the earth with stories, songs and sweat.

I met him outside an allotment site on the brow of a hill to the east of Lady’s Bridge. He took a road he knew well, the bus passing through the 12th century cattle market of the Wicker, under the arches with their bomb damage repaired and up the old Hospital Hill.

Passing his old house on the bus, he got off on Scott Road and, as I was running late, took shelter there, thinking precisely about how the land, the houses, the bits in between, how they held part of him.

This is a magical place right here

We met at the gates of Grimesthorpe allotments.

“Good to meet you!” I said in return to his smiling greeting, not yet knowing he had spent his formative years here. I introduced him to the site.

“This is a magical place right here. The slope of the allotment site on the southern edge, this is the slope of an ancient earth work stretching once from here, past Wincobank Hill and out 25 miles to Mexborough downstream on the Don.

“The earth work is known today as the Roman Ridge and was before that Grim’s Ditch because there is Grimesthorpe to the east and this is Grimesthorpe Road that runs parallel below.

“Places that carry this name ‘Grimes’, they relate to things being grim, to another word, another name, to Woden, to the Devil.”

We passed through the gate, locking it behind us.

“This little lane here, to the north… I don’t think it has a name now. I don’t think it’s called anything on the maps.”

I paused.

“An old man I knew who’d lived here as a boy, he knew its name as Devil’s Elbow, a sharp, crooked, steep little lane.”

Wild Food 2

We walked on, perhaps in some amazement. Finding the key, we entered some community gardens and took our seats looking out across the Don Valley in the shelter of an outdoor schoolroom.

“You know with Covid,” explained Angga, “We couldn’t meet together any more. Some of us didn’t even have computers or telephones to be able to Zoom. It’s just not been possible.

“We have all become aware of how much the earth actually matters, about the way things really grow from out of it and that this is important. So we wanted to have a place to come when we could get back together, where we could do something, build something together. Something outside, here in the air, where things grow and have seasons. Somewhere where we can build. With muscles.

“Our group varies in age from 18 to 72. Men of all ages. Men who need this space where frailty is the strength.”

“Imagine,” says Angga, the young man, “an older man in his 50s, who is divorced, who doesn’t know how to cook and just depends on takeaways. About that simple shame of not knowing how. To do. To ask. To listen.”

Angga had been married and his ex-wife had taught him the ways of the British. “Foraging,” he said.

8

We looked out across a partially-tamed allotment site and spoke of men there working. Angga told me about his family, his parents, two brothers and sister who had returned to Indonesia ten years ago.

“You didn’t go…” I said, as we returned to the gate. “You’re here.”

“Yes.”

“You are tied to the earth, are you not?” I laughed at this. “Your ex-wife, she took you foraging, didn’t she? It’s all that nettle soup you’ve eaten. It stung you into the ground.”

Angga laughed.

I continued, “How ridiculous is that! By gathering, cooking and eating of the idiotic nettle you actually attach yourself. For real. And now you’re here. And it matters.”

The Elusive Pignut

Seeking a small, chickpea-sized tuber above Bradfield.

As I walk through fields and woods in the valleys above Bradfield with a group of friends, I stop various people innocently walking and ask them what sort of wild foods they collect, if any. The responses are what I might expect: blackberries, wild garlic in the spring, and one man’s bitter parting remark that his days of mushrooming are far behind him.

I’m looking for something quite specific on this walk, a plant called the pignut. I don’t know if it’s there because I’ve not looked, but I tell my friends to look out for a wispy and insignificant little plant, like a small cow parsley.

On the way through the forest edge I see some hedge garlic, which I pick alongside some of the fresher stinging nettle leaves. I also collect some oyster mushrooms growing on fallen birch boughs.

As we leave the woodland and move into the open grassland I meet Bob, who is walking with his dog. It reminds me of the cross-breed terrier that I saw working with wild boar hunters in the South of France some years ago. I’ll never forget my only trip out with the hunters in a rural community not far from Carcassonne around 2007. I got a call from the Mayor of the village, finally inviting me to accompany him.

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I made a mistake. I had the permission of the Mayor but not the permission of the Boar, the sanglier itself, and I paid for it with a badly sprained ankle which took nearly a year to heal properly. I even took myself to the local ‘fire blower’, or folk healer, in the neighbouring village. The souffleuse de feu graciously allowed me into her kitchen and, after running her hands over my ankle, told me I’d left it too late.

I knew that. Too late to ask permission of the wild boar, too late to change my shoes for something more appropriate, too late to talk to the trees through which we walked whilst the small, thick-skinned terrier dug deep in undergrowth to drive the great boar into the open. Too late to look at the moon and see in its crescent form the tusks of the boar, to warn it, apologise beforehand, find out if a tree rustled nearby, if permission was granted.

Bob told me of a variety of foods he collected. He’d been brought up on his grandfather’s farm and had learned there. I doubt he’d ever asked permission and I doubt he’d ever been refused agreement. We spoke about empty spaces. He talked about where he’d seen ceps growing and spoke about an open beechwood, the location of which I will hold as a secret, rich (perhaps) in mushrooms.

So many sites of wild food are invisible and it’s in the viewing of their absence that true knowledge is gathered.

I heard a call from my friends ahead of us. “Look here,” my wife shouted, “Lucy’s spotted a potential pignut.”

I continued my conversation with Bob. As we approached a small stream, in the grass on the banks emerged a rather indistinct foliage and flower. Yes! It looked like a pignut. My hands were shaking as I pushed my fingers into the earth underneath and around the base of the stem. Nothing. I pressed deeper into the moss, still slightly dry from the remarkable spring drought, and there emerged the small, chickpea-sized tuber of the pignut.

I jumped with joy and showed it to Bob. I told him to rub off the brown skin to find a clear cream nut underneath. Taste it. He took it down to the stream, washed off the skin in the running water and ate.

I chased after my friends and called them back, shouting out with such joyous amazement that here was a pignut. I looked into the open fields to the right and there, stretched across the lower part of the field, were dozens of flowering pignuts. I dug my fingers down into them to look for the tubers. The earth was still hard and dry so I took out my Opinel knife and cut beneath to retrieve the nuts. I peeled some and handed them out to taste.

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There was no need for apology here. No need for permission from the plant. Perhaps just the excitement, the blood running fast in admiration of one of the most enjoyable wild food snacks to be had. In Food For Free, Richard Maybe describes how pignuts were the favourite of country children, and we find that they really are child-like little mouthfuls. They are crisp with a light and nutty flavour, one of the few real sources of starch that can be found in June.

I collected a decent handful of the nuts and brought them home, along with the oyster mushrooms, nettles and hedge garlic. I cooked some linguine and using rapeseed oil I lightly fried the mushrooms, followed by the nettles and hedge garlic, and finally the pignuts. I served them within the hour with such a happy feeling of having been given them as a gift.

I’ve been receiving a lot of gifts recently. My sister died a few weeks ago and her funeral was the very opposite of the boar hunt and my badly swollen ankle, an ongoing agreement from beyond the grave and within the rhythms of the lives of the mourners that things were being done in the right order.

Accepting gifts and recognising permission are the lover’s clues to getting it right. By the edge of the dam above which we were walking, with the water levels low you could see the old cobbled paths that ran alongside, the remains of the field boundaries still marked by stone disappearing into the water. The wild foods we collect, the wild foods we imagine growing or to which we hope to return, mark our gastronomic paths and boundaries. Eating of these harvests is an extraordinary reconstitution of something that must never be done other than with love.

Illicit knowledge, imagination and nature’s bounty

Collecting wild foods draws us into a landscape from which we map the foods we eat.

Food pornography generally indexes its lustful or gluttonous representation. For me, it refers more precisely to psilocybin mushrooms.

Scouring the fields surrounding my mother’s village in Wales in the late 1970s, I carried with me an already-tattered first edition of Richard Maybe’s Food For Free. First published in 1972, it sheltered within its pages illicit knowledge in the form of coloured line drawings of a small and indistinct cream-coloured fungus that did indeed have magical powers. There are probably many people – boomers notwithstanding – whose introduction to wild foods came through seeking such secrets.

And still, in 2020 – a year when the most explicit, viral level anatomies flavour our imaginations – wild foods draw us in. This is the first in a series of reflections on the theme of wild food.

Like everybody else who samples the fruits of nature, I learned very early on the unimaginable difficulties I would face if I were to depend on such an unreliable bounty. We gather these bodies as a supplement to our physical needs, not to fulfil them. Rather the ramsons, the bullace and the sorrel tag our desires. Harvesting what are often by definition the baselines of our nutrition is frequently a solitary act – social distancing an integral feature, our sources not to be shared. With such a fragile resource, we know that it can only ever titillate, and the palette and the imagination require just that.

It can be a bit like ‘munro bagging’, where the object of the collector is something simply defined by being a little higher than another thing, or a little deeper, perhaps, in this case. Collecting wild foods draws us into a landscape from which we map the foods we eat, where knowledge of the weed and the fungal are our perspective, channelling our culinary visions, straightening the paths to a more frugal past.

Over the coming months I’m going to have conversations with people for whom wild food might be something very different. Wholesome perhaps, an engagement with a more coherent relationship with food, consumption, forms of production and with society more generally. Foragers, like hunters, for whom the cep is more an ungulate to be stalked, always marked with myth and metaphor. Those who have made it a career, whose collecting ekes out some dynamic privacy, or those for whom sharing is itself the secret they seek.

Just carry on straight down there. That’s the way to Wild Wales.

My maternal grandfather was a minister who turned to Byron as much as the Bible seeking inspiration for sermons. He told me of a place called ‘Wild Wales’. The year he died, in the late 1960s, I was eight years old and he took me on a walk up the new Carmarthen Road to the north. Heading out past the rebel-graffitied cellars, the Chinese takeaway and finally the old police station, the road led into open country. My grandfather stopped as the road turned left and pointed to a stile and down a grassy path, woods in the distance.

“You carry on now,” he said. “I’ve got to go back.”

“But where do I go?” I asked.

“Just carry on straight down there. That’s the way to Wild Wales.”

He went home and didn’t see any Wales again after that summer. I crossed the stile, walked down the path alone and have yet to leave.

It is many places, speaks many languages and shares a more or less precise and impossible rendition of history with flowering particulars of grammar, description, faith, utility or suffering. Mycelium memories. So when this year I watched the Japanese knotweed shooting up on the wasteland next to my house, I thought it was time I did some translation work. A different sort of linguistics, simpler and at times more palatable.

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It is practically an urban myth that Japanese knotweed tastes rather like rhubarb. I often wonder what the garden arrangements were in the 19th century, when knotweed was first brought over as a decorative flower and sculptural plant. Now it’s illegal to dispose of it unless done appropriately: by fire. That’s a good way to deal with something that’s become wild by nothing but its own vigour.

I cut the stems from this patch of no man’s land and prepared them. If you want to try it then you really do need to peel the stems and remove any young leaf buds. You can’t gather the plant when it’s fully grown as it becomes woody. The younger stems have a thin skin which can be paired off with a knife.

The flesh below is green and rather cellulose. It takes a long time to prepare but once it’s cleaned of the tougher skin, you place it in a pot with just a dash of water and considerably less sugar than you might imagine, and allow it to cook down on a slow heat.

the resultant green sludge really is exceptionally flavoursome

While it cooks the odour is rather overpowering and not one that instils confidence, but don’t be disheartened. When the stems finally break down the resultant green sludge really is exceptionally flavoursome. It does indeed taste like rhubarb, having the same sharp acids found in rhubarb and sorrel.

But Japanese knotweed also carries with it more wholesome and somehow more fulfilling flavours. I assume it’s not become something used in commercial food preparation because of the complexities of preparing the stems. There are rumours of highly-prized knotweed being sold on markets in Japan. Perhaps in a cuisine more used to the knife skills of sushi it finds a happier home.

If you would like to suggest someone who I might enjoy meeting, please get in touch. They cannot be more virtual than the food of the collector.

yet to come (to Melee)

It’s a pretty rotten little apple I catch

I eat it right down to the core where the flesh is softer where the fresh is flesher

And there with the fresh flesh I flesh out this idea

that somehow and somewhere you’re not alive at all

and you’re not dead either

you can’t really die when you are made up of all the interactions

and those interactions morph and then wander off

Somewhere else on their own

and they get lost and they don’t remember and that doesn’t matter

Because then another memory disappears

and with it

Someone else is grieving

That’s why we remember

we remember because it is yet to come

You are right

So where do I start with something that’s perhaps already too late. I remember sitting talking with Ben Graves probably a month ago now if not more. He told me how in China the virus was being presented as the enemy. China and its people were at war. I took that as some sort of trick of the state I suppose, an attempt to rally people behind a failing government or government that was afraid to be perceived as failing. No doubt on some level that’s the case. Political parties of all persuasions have the tendency to protect themselves and their own reputations. Not something that belongs to the Chinese that’s certain.

But here we are. 17th of March 2020. I’ve finally managed to persuade the children not to go to school tomorrow. Wednesday. Yesterday was horrible. I realised the position we were heading into and finally spoke to both Kai and Lottie. Both are excellent at mathematics and I tried to present them the statistical understanding, the change of probabilities, the impact of their continuing to attend school with large numbers of children and adults present. I described quite calmly the potential impact that might have on their capacity to spend time with other people.

I tried to appeal to the parents of my children’s peers. On a social media thread. Explaining that if we were all to stop sending our children to school right now and it’s obvious that we should be doing so really. Then perhaps our children would have each other to play with rather than having to separate off into our little cellular families. But that’s gone now.

My post was initially followed by a poetic intervention. Now this is horrible but one of the ugly little lines I keep inside me as so few people care, in fact I’ve never told anyone I don’t think… maybe I tried with Heidi… but for different reasons… is that poets really are very dangerous. It’s a sort of really rather cruel joke I suppose used by Zizek. He cites the idea that every heroic nationalist movement always has a poet somewhere crawling around on it. I suppose that even the same with Yates really. It is certainly far more poignant in the case of, was it Bosnia, who was it who was found hiding away having grown his beard? Some leader. Some nasty killer of people. Some nationalist hero. Sacrificing himself. But when it’s all over and he has to escape what does it do? He grows his beard long and becomes a published poet, was that not it? A published poet and some sort of herbal healer? So the idea is that somewhere and always there will be a poet. And that’s how I experienced the poetry. An absence of knowledge. I think that’s a decent description of the poetry I love and also of the poetry I am describing. Both of them an absence of knowledge. However there is a knowledge in that or there is genuinely an absence of willingness to know.

After the social media post, one person took it up. he has complicated health issues that require him to isolate. A nice man. Today someone else had kept the child from school. That was nice too, but my children, I couldn’t stop them going in and didn’t want to bar them shouting at the door at 7.30 in the morning. So I drove them in the van to keep them out of the buses. And then they came home. Lottie stayed quietly in the house snf Kai was invited out and went to see a group of his friends. Unfortunately, for me, I know where he had spent the day as had the other children so between them, between the different schools they were all going to was probably I don’t know 3000 potential people they had been in contact with. It is so dull to have to think like this – a pragmatism – also the only way to think. We are actually required as a group of people, as a people, as a set of communities, to do something that is both for ourselves and for the common good.

I ran into a friend of mine on the street. Craig Broadwith. A lovely man. Must have been some sort of SWP radical punk or something when he was younger judging by certain photographs and comments I’ve seen. Now he’s a very respectable senior heritage planner working for English Heritage in York. He wears a dapper cap. I asked how his partner was knowing that she had health issues. Although only a few years older than I he has had very poor asthma for many years and considers himself to be seriously in danger of… Dying… If he were to contract coronavirus. His partner has MS, an autoimmune system that doesn’t work at all and depends on complex pharmaceuticals to live even the comparatively good comparatively limited life she manages. She too might… Die… If she were to contract coronavirus. Where did he say they were going? I’m not sure he really had a response to that. I don’t think it was a happy one. He was worried about his daughter Rihonna, stuck in Manchester as he said it. He wants to get her back.

I explained how I was feeling I was some sort of idiotic voice in the dark. Because I was presenting things as they were. And so obvoious. I could see in his eyes of course that he knew the seriousness of the situation. All the potential is there are over the coming months for things to go so well in so many ways and then all the other possibilities as well. I said I was sick of it. He said there were many arguments going on in many houses and many relations. I said I was sick of it. People complain about being part of a herd. They act however like they’re in a herd. Glued to sets of political opinions that obscure to them the actual gravity and reality of the situation that is quite simply beyond their experience. Is it because I’m older? I asked him. I’m 58. Born in 1961 to parents and grandparents but particularly parents who experienced the war as children. Very different experiences and ones that sometimes led my mother to a cruelty. Never my father however. Never the little boy hiding. With the dagger or was it just a kitchen knife or even a butter knife under his pillow just in case the Germans did come and he could protect his mother. Who built the little wagon that he must’ve pulled along the 2 miles to the shops when he was eight. Buying food for his mother who had just had his twin sisters.

And so the Chinese said it was a war and now it’s here it is. It is as meaningless and as without aim as a falling bomb.

And it’s quite normal that someone who isn’t here doesn’t care. Because bombs have been falling everywhere for so many years and now and, as we all really expected, they are falling again.

And another difference, for now at any rate, is that the men are here as well. Not taken off to a battlefield leaving the elderly, the children and women. So I’ve done the unforgivable and become a man. Fuck. That is funny. Actually. I am a bit old for that.

for Ben

Jesus of Immingham

 Andrews Church, Immingham.

To you, I don’t know your name. I’m sure I could find out, you were doing the flower arrangement for the church on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the departure of Immingham’s Mayflower passengers, thier Founding Fathers. It is Friday, 29 November 2019 and I’ve travelled down with Steve Pool, Giz and Tom and we helping Steve look after four projectors. It’s part of his work with the collaborators, a group of artists sharing ownership of the sorts of large-scale projector that can light up a sizeable building.

It’s a bitterly cold evening. Fortunately very little wind and I’ve dressed up prepared. Two pairs of trousers, hats, gloves, multiple layers and fleeces and anything to keep the cold away. And it works. I don’t even end up having to wear my gloves. My projection, the one I’m watching over, takes place at the start of the lantern parade that has been organised to celebrate the four centuries since a group of local citizens left Immingham, eventually to find themselves on the east coast of what would become America.

Just that alone is passé. Literally and metaphorically. In these days of Trump celebrating the founding fathers itself rings false. We don’t celebrate the founding fathers, we might have celebrated some founding mothers a few decades ago, perhaps some foundlings might pass muster today. But what we see in the founding fathers is the start of a call that echoes with desecration.

Immingham however doesn’t falter. We are at the Parish church while Steve sets up the equipment. A man walks down the path towards us wearing a black nylon bomber jacket. To me he looks like a parish priest but Giz, having sharper vision than I, asks him if he is security?

Yes. Just keeping them little buggers away from the equipment and causing trouble.

Steve drives me down to B&M Bargains and sets up projectors from the back of two cars which project a series of artworks done by children from the village. Around 5:45 a group of young people arrive and set up Japanese drums and are followed by increasing numbers of local residents. It’s a really white place. It’s a really English place. The priestly security guard had explained earlier:

Immingham is really just a village but is actually in the process of becoming a town.

The procession was a picture book event. It looked so much like itself that you can see the similarities with every other occasion. Everything was there. The local pipe band, a white bearded man carrying a silver topped marching staff. Wearing a kilt and so decidedly and fruitfully like the actor that he actually was not that he managed to make  a group of slightly lesser grey-haired men march behind him blowing into tartan bagpipes. Banging a drum on which was writ large Cleethorpes. Or Grimsby.

We are down in deepest Viking village names, lands that are flat and open to the east winds. That border the sea. Immingham.

It is down by St Andrews church that it happens. The thing I didn’t expect to happen but for which I was waiting nevertheless. I know that because I recognised it when it took place.

The priest-security guard had made his way out of the churchyard and Steve asked me to give a hand to an old lady who was somewhat struggling with boxes she wished to bring to her car.

So she, who becomes you, walked very stiffly with your walking stick. I met you outside your car and took the boxes from your arms and wondered how you’d manage to get there at all. Effectively disabled. We spoke whilst I placed the tools of the flower arranger in the back of your little car. This is what you said:

I don’t originally come from Immingham. I come from the north-east coast, from Northumberland. But my husband came from here and we moved here when we got married. That was in 1960. You wouldn’t believe what it was like here then. If you look around now then all that existed when I came here was this church, that cottage just across the road and the row of terraced houses on the other side of the green. That and a little thatched cottage that’s now been knocked down, just there, where an old man called Jesus lived.

Where? I asked. Where was the cottage?

Just there on the corner. There weren’t any roads it was just tracks.

So that was it. Just a stupid English parish church on the east coast. A 1000 year old parish church that formed some sort of ancient heart of a Newtown developed around oil refineries and chemical industries in Grimsby.

It is a really nice village to live in. We’ve won prizes in the village in Bloom competition. We were invited to go down to London to build a garden, an exhibition garden. It was so good that everyone remarked on it but we weren’t even mentioned. The judges were so impressed that they decided to invent a special category and gave an Award. The whole village comes together and spends the time preparing. You should come and see. It’s a really special place, everybody really gets on with each other. There’s no trouble here. Well… There have been a few changes… You know some… I shouldn’t say… Some people moved in… A family from Sheffield and things really got difficult. There was trouble with that family and it spread and we had quite a lot of problems but they’ve gone now and things seem to have calmed down.

You went off in your car. Back to your husband? Not sure how you manage? Such persistence. So nice to have a church in which to arrange flowers. So nice to have four centuries of remembrance. You told me about the honour of being one of the three villages dressing up as founding fathers, sitting on the stone from whence they departed on the village green.  I think you had been one of those. I think that’s what you were telling me.

After you left back down the path from the church came the security-priest. I hailed him, I literally hailed him.

What’s this? What’s this I hear about Jesus living in a little cottage here by the church? Is that true? Can that really be true that Jesus lived here next to the church in a little cottage and he had a big beard?

Well… That’s what they say… I’m not really sure it was him myself…

You’re not sure it really was him? But it might have been?

But is it true did an old man called Jesus really live there?

Yes. But you know there are just people that do that sort of thing. Grow beards. There’s one man who grows his beard all year just so he can be Father Christmas.

But what was the nature of his character? What did people think of him? What was he like?

Well… The children were terrified of him…

Immingham. Grimsby. Cleethorpes. The Southbank of the Humber, curled underneath the lip of that dank tongued river mouth.
You’ve borne a Jesus and only a few decades ago.
I’ve met two people who knew him. And I know it’s true because the children were terrified of him.

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