View from the Pew
By Jake Thackray
FEBRUARY THE SECOND, the lovely feast of Candlemas, Our Lady's Day. It is like the snowdrop that brightens the bleakness and dirtiness of the month. It is pure purification. Here are some snowdrops for you, tales to get you through the winter.
A book I have says that on 2 February 1650 Nell Gwynn was born, daughter of a fishwife, and in 1875 Fritz KreisIer and in 1882 James Joyce and in 1901 Jascha Heifitz and in 1926 Giscard, who cares? D'Estaing. Buddy Holly, 1959, and Bertrand Russell, 1970, who died on this day. Well I never.
More rivetingly, my book tells me that on this day in 1852 the first public flushing lavatory for men was opened in Fleet Street and that in 1986 women voted for the first time in Liechtenstein. Hmrrun! What snowdrops?
Here are some other things that happened on Candlemas days.
In 1994 in Yorkshire, a man fell asleep in a crowded train. As it approached his Station it stopped tat the signals 100 yards from the platform. The man awoke and said "Is this Harrogate?" We said yes.
He got up and, still half asleep, opened the door and stepped off onto the tracks four foot below. When he had hauled himself back up, he said to us all, "Wasn't that silly of me! I got out of the wrong side."
Then he stepped out of the door on the other side. What a snowdrop.
Then there is the well documented story about the two Shakespearean actors who spent the afternoon in the bar. At the evening performance the Duke of Gloucester weaved onto the stage and began the opening lines of Richard the Third: "Now ish the winner of our dish contest hee! hee! made glorious Yorkshire by this shunny sh tunmer ha! ha!"
The audience bristled. A voice called out "That man is drunk." Gloucester swayed and goggled back at them, lifted a finger and said solemnly "Correct, my friend. But jush wait till you shee the Buke of Duckingham."
Or: a housewife coming home from the shops one afternoon found a man lying on his back on her kitchen floor with his head under the sink which he was mending. Assuming it was her husband of whom she was very fond, she caressed him privily.
The plumber for such he was yelped and jerked up, knocking himself out on the pipework above. As the ambulance men were carrying him down the garden path, the lady explained how it had happened, and they laughed so much they dropped him off the trolley and the plumber broke a leg.
Or: another housewife who put a batch of buns into the oven one morning and then went upstairs to take a bath. When she had undressed she thought that maybe after all she should pop down and check that she had the right gas mark.
Half way there, just as she was, she heard a man's voice calling out "Morning, Mrs. Wilkinson, it's only me!" Thinking it was her friendly milkman who usually bobbed in, she slipped into the cupboard under the stairs to hide.
The man walked through the kitchen and opened up the cupboard door. Seeing her there, just as she was, he said "I do beg your pardon, I have come to read the meter." "Oh," said the lady, "I thought you were the milkman."
You have, without doubt, heard stories like this before, and whether they are authentic or apocryphal is no matter. These tales fee! real. Things do happen like this. They are signs that life is going on and renewing itself perpetually.
Unlike the jaded jokes that some men tell in bars because they have nothing better to say, those wearisome gags that begin with "Have you heard the one about...?" and end up with you wishing you had a disembowelling tool in your pocket, these stories make us laugh with relief and hope.
Corny they may sound, but untrue they are not. They illuminate our shabby landscape like bright snowdrops in a dirty winter and they purify.
Here is my favourite snowdrop. One 2 February I took my mother to Leeds Town Hall to hear The Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra, now defunct, play Mahler 8 under the fist of Norman del Mar, also defunct.
Mother fell asleep at the start. The last movement of this incandescent symphony is a great glory. When the brass section came blasting in she awoke with a start and a little "Ooh!" In her half sleep she whispered my dead father's name into my ear. "Ernest, old love!" and she shook my arm.
As I say, I tell you these things only to make you laugh a bit this early February. But what a lovely feast day it is.