Dear children and young people,
Well, it’s Thursday on the penultimate day of half-term and the sun is actually shining! Dear Mr Moore and I have just returned from a rather muddy walk in the park and we were talking, as we walked, about our most treasured memory from childhood. I know I’ve told you all about the wonderful snowy days in Northern Ireland, our lovely family quizzes around the fire eating baked potatoes and the toys we had for Christmas, but there is one day in my (long ago) childhood that stands head and shoulders above the rest. As you know from my previous memos, we weren’t a very wealthy family and family days out in our childhood were mostly confined to the woods, fields and seasides nearest to home. This was largely because only my father could drive and, as he was away abroad a lot as he was in the Royal Navy, he was not always around to drive us further afield. My dad was wonderful, but not the most practical of men and his attempts at DIY were hilarious. However, he had a knack of making ordinary things extraordinary!
Anyway, to get back to the happiest memory of my childhood. My dad came home on leave from the Navy and decided to buy a car. We were ecstatic as not many people in our road owned a car in those days (I’m talking the late 60s, dear children, not the dark ages!). There was no way we could have afforded a brand new car in those days, but my dad searched high and low and came home one sunny day driving the most beautiful car we had ever seen. It looked like something out of an American movie with its wings, white wall tyres and shiny chrome bumpers. It was a Ford Taunus, which I have now discovered (after googling for information) ‘The Ford Taunus 17 M is a middle sized family saloon/sedan that was produced by Ford Germany between August 1957 and August 1960.’
We also discovered later that it was not in the best of conditions when dad bought it and, after many trips to the garage for miscellaneous repairs, it eventually had to be sold in exchange for a much more reliable. but infinitely more boring, Vauxhall Viva!
Anyway, back to the memory! The very next day, which happened to be the warmest day of that summer (1966), mum and dad decided that we would pack a picnic and take to a beautiful beach in County Down called ‘Tyrella’ – somewhere we’d heard a lot about, but had never visited before. County Down is a particularly beautiful coastal region in the north of Ireland and Tyrella beach is not only one of the safest beaches and most sandy beaches in the region, but it is also overlooked by the wonderful Mountains of Mourne.
The dark and mysterious Mountains of Mourne from Tyrella Beach
There is a beautiful Irish song btw called ‘The Mountains of Mourne’ which is all about a young man who leaves Ireland for work, but can’t stop thinking about his beautiful Irish girlfriend, Mary, back home. The lyrics are written in the style of letters home to his girlfriend. In this verse, the young man writes about meeting a friend from home who has joined the police force and how he, as a traffic policeman, stops the traffic ‘with a wave of his hand’ to allow them to talk of old times:
‘Remember young Peter O’Loughlin, of course,
Well, he’s over here now at the head of the force.
I met him today, I was crossing the Strand,
And he stopped all the traffic with one wave of his hand.
As we were talking of days that are gone,
The whole population of London looked on.
But for all those great powers he’s wishful like me,
To be back where the dark Mourne sweeps down to the sea.’
I transgress (look it up) – so on with the memory. In accordance with all the best childhood memories, the sun shone all day and we spent hours playing in the sea and in the golden sand dunes. As children always are at the beach, we were soon starving and looking forward to that picnic which consisted of roast chicken, potato salad and homemade Irish bread. Every single morsel tasted amazing – even though sand got into every mouthful and I had to wash my chicken leg in sea water after I dropped it in the sand! We drank warm orange squash (no cool bags in those days, children) and then, after a mandatory rest and a few chapters of ‘First Term at Mallory Towers’ by Enid Blyton (for me) and a game of cricket for the rest of the family, we were back in that beautiful azure sea with its high crested waves.
Nothing spoiled that day – there were no jelly fish (a prominent feature of later trips to the seaside in Ireland), no clouds, no arguments (we were famous for our family arguments btw) and, best of all, no need to hurry home as it was the school holidays! To this very day I can still close my eyes and remember every detail of that magical day. My mother sitting in her deckchair making sure we didn’t get out of our depth in the sea or wander out of sight while looking for shells; my dad reading his newspaper smothered in olive oil and vinegar (my dad, not the newspaper) (his own homemade suntan lotion) – do NOT try this at home and we children dancing and splashing in those beautiful crystal clear waves. All too soon, however, like all wonderful moments, the day drew to a close and we had to pack up and return home. I even remember the feeling of scratchy sand against leather as we sat bare legged, bronzed and sleepy on the back seat of the car as the sun set behind the mountains and we left the beach reluctantly behind. It reminds me of a poem (‘oh no, here we go again’ I hear you cry!):
Having always, until I came to England that is, lived near the sea, and of course the wonderful memories I have of that special day on Tyrella Beach, it is no wonder that I love the sea so much and why I love reading stories and poetry about it. I’ve already shared John Masefield’s beautiful poem ‘Sea Fever’ with you and probably a few others over these past few months, but one poem in particular remains a favourite of mine. I didn’t really understand the poem when we read it during my first year at secondary school in Northern Ireland, but it haunted my thoughts for years and it wasn’t until I became a teacher myself that I began to really love it. As mentioned in previous memos, it was normal back in the day for children to have to learn poetry ‘off by heart’, so it’s no wonder that the words have stayed with me! The poem in question is by a favourite poet of mine, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and is called ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. It’s a very strange and ghostly tale about a ship’s crew and its captain in particular, who shot an albatross whilst on a long sea journey and paid with their lives for doing so because it was very bad luck to kill such a beautiful and mystical bird. Although very dark and difficult to understand at times, the poem is beautifully crafted and contains some of the most beautiful imagery I’ve ever read. For example, Coleridge’s descriptions of the sea are unforgettable. The first extract below is about the ship being driven along by the sea breezes and is lyrical and uplifting. The second extract is about the ship when it is becalmed and the imagery therefore is darker and more menacing. I particularly love the words ‘As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean’:
I wonder what your favourite memories are of your younger days. You probably aren’t even thinking too much about memories now as you are too young and engrossed in enjoying living in the moment. However, I happen to know for sure that one day, when you’re all grown up and maybe with families of your own, you will look back on your childhood days and, like me, reminisce about times gone by.
We have so much to look forward to, dear children and young people. As I look out of my window, I can see the sun just beginning to sink beneath the trees at the bottom of our garden and the birds enjoying the treats we’ve placed on the bird table. Spring is most definitely in the air today and it has lifted my spirits and made me start thinking about sunnier days ahead! I am so looking forward to travelling again and seeing my family again – properly! WhatsApp has been so wonderful during these lonely days of lockdown, but oh, what joy it will be to see our loved ones again face to actual face and be able to hug them again! With the hope of summer in mind, we have booked a lovely old house in the Yorkshire town of Whitby in late July and I am keeping everything crossed that, by then, our children and their partners will be able to share a wonderful week with us by the sea! Whitby is famous not only for its beautiful scenery and rugged coastline but also because that intrepid explorer, Captain Cook, embarked from there in 1770 in his ship called ‘The Endeavour’ (which was built in Whitby) – a journey which ended in him discovering Australia! Born in 1728, in the small North Yorkshire village of Marton, now a suburb of Middlesbrough, Cook learned his trade at a shipping firm in Whitby, which, back then, was a bustling coal and whaling port. I’m really looking forward to visiting the museum in the town to learn more about this intrepid explorer! The picture below of The Endeavour reminds me of the ship that the Ancient Mariner sailed in:
Another fascinating fact about Whitby is that Bram Stoker, who wrote ‘Dracula’ in 1891 spent some time in Whitby and was inspired by the Gothic majesty of Whitby Abbey and some information that he gleaned from the local library whilst out for a morning walk to write his famous novel:
‘On 8 August 1890, Stoker walked down to what was known as the Coffee House End of the Quay and entered the public library. It was there that he found a book published in 1820, recording the experiences of a British consul in Bucharest, William Wilkinson, in the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia (now in Romania). Wilkinson’s history mentioned a 15th-century prince called Vlad Tepes who was said to have impaled his enemies on wooden stakes. He was known as Dracula – the ‘son of the dragon’.
Here is a picture of the Abbey which, I think you will agree, does look very spooky and I can’t wait to walk up there with dear Mr Moore – (although not in the dark for obvious reasons!)
The Abbey in Whitby
I can’t wait to walk around Whitby discovering all of these wonderful places as I simply love anything to do with history and anything to do with literature and writers. I’m sorry to say that dear Mr Moore does not hold the same interest as me in literature, but like me, he does love visiting old castles and abbeys – so we are very much looking forward to our week in Whitby and we don’t even care if it rains!
Anyway dear children, it won’t be long now until you are back in school and I simply can’t wait to see you all. School is simply not the same without real live children and young people and I am counting down the days until we can all get back to normal in real life instead of just in the virtual world!
Happy birthday wishes this week go to:
Sinifesimi Adebayo in U5 is ‘Sweet Sixteen’ on Monday 22nd February
Mandy Paul in U4 on 23rd February and Jade Webster-Lowndes on 24th February and Molly Taunton on 27th February.
Finally, I hope you all had a wonderful half-term break and that you feel re-energised and ready to get back to your studies. Meanwhile, remember that old adage – ‘if you can be anything, be kind.’
Love and best wishes,