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Throw open the windows and let the outside in!’ was the battle cry from the Middlemoor clan of Ravenshook. It was the annual celebration of the Haw and this meant spring cleaning at the Halls.

Garlands of evergreen that had framed each wall and hung from the cloisters and porticos throughout the dark months were pulled from their hooks and carried to the greening fields. Here a bonfire would be built whose flames would signal for at least thirty miles to the east the news that spring had arrived on the high lands.

People of the low lands waited patiently, looking west towards the mighty Pen – the green goddess whose sleeping outline formed the horizon. Only when the cuckoo stole its first nest on Middlemoor could the Ravens light the fire – only then had spring truly arrived on Middlemoor.

And then it snowed, again!

And did it snow – for the last two weeks I’ve had the surreal experience of driving on roads carved out of ice and edged with walls of snow that in places reached over ten feet in height. Views that would normally reach as far as York and Selby have been stunted by the solid white mass. The road over Holme Moss (the new Tour de France) was closed for fourteen days.

So as spring waited in nature’s lay-by (no overnight parking) then so did all our Easter plans for the outside. The ground works optimistically created during the now infamous ‘March’ dig have, in the last two days, just become visible again in the melting snow.

There were some positive outcomes from the Arctic exploration experience of being trapped. The main being that I could no longer find any excuses not to tackle the wall papering on the stairs and landing. Unfortunately I’d put the job on hold so long that all the paint work needed a fresh coat but at least the daunting task of hanging four metre lengths of expensive wallpaper on walls that laugh in the face of straightness is now complete. Now we sit patiently waiting for carpet that has been in storage for twelve months.

In the midst of all this cold gloom I’ve decided to re-open the Halls and throw out some sunshine. As a reminder, the purpose of the Halls is to re-discover all those songs that sit quietly at the back of your digital library waiting, as patiently as our carpet fitter, to be played for the first time. Sometimes I cheat by playing a favourite that’s been purchased twice with one download remaining un-played. Other times I simply let the dart of fate land on any number it likes. We’ve also had visitors to the Halls and this is very welcome particularly if you think I’m missing a trick. The rules are quite flexible.

This week I’ve re-discovered a real treat from 2007. Taken from their debut mini-album, The Thief and the Heartbreaker, I’ve Known for Long by Alberta Cross is the song of the week. If you imagine a mix of My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon and Neil Young and get quite excited by the prospect then I would urge you to discover more at http://www.albertacross.net/. Not only is the website great but you can also currently download their first proper full album, Songs of Patience (2012) for the sum of £4.99 from a popular digital music download type company that also does phones and computers and things.

Tuesday’s weather was September blue with the milky sun of the weekend finally giving way to the cut throat light of early spring. Shadows were long and in stark contrast to the flood of sun light, the hills still bore numerous slips of white as the cold air cosseted the last of the snow. It was a good day to be out and about so at nine a.m. I did what every self respecting lover of landscape should do on the first day off work and climbed into the dentist’s chair.

Now there are worse things in life than the punishing quarterly ritual of the ear piercing jet being manoeuvred beneath the gum line against raw nerves but, looking out over the trees into the deep blue sky, I was struggling to come up with any examples.

The trouble with four days off mid-week at half term is that without really trying the days suddenly become laden with activities, jobs, and treats. Most school holidays follow a similar pattern: it’s the tartan of time that we picnic on however this half term would be slightly different.

With the three monthly meditation exercise over (it is true that you can beat pain by focusing on a screw in the light above your head), and the family waiting outside, we were off – to paint an attic room. Now as you might guess; feeling a little like a newly hatched chicken blinking in to the sun, setting off with a whiter kind of smile to paint a room put me in a bit of a grump. It was the first day off to coincide with a real sun blast since weeks before Christmas and the next nine hours of my life were mapped out to include five litres of Dulux best, a brush and a roller.

We were clearing Uncle WA’s house, which, at first sight, appeared to have been used as a store for the last forty years worth of racing papers. WA didn’t like to throw things away. He had passed away just before the festive season and Amanda and her sister (the only remaining relatives in the UK) had worked tirelessly since the new year to clear, scrub, clean and throw away as much of the hoard as they could fit in the back of the family estate. It had been a Herculean effort and timed to coincide with the arrival, from Ireland, of Uncle John (WA’s brother) and his large white van. I scalded myself for being a little grumpy and left the walking boots at the back of my mind.
Five white van tip trips later (yes, we had to take the death certificate) and several coats of white paint and the house suddenly began to quiet down and stop moaning at the thought of being clean and tidy. We had done it, just, and it was time for tea.

Now, should proof were needed that being a six year old child is the best thing in the world then the following day provided all the evidence. It was ash scattering day. WA’s first and only love in life had been the horses: race horses. With this in mind, Amanda had made an enquiry to York Race course to see if there was any possibility that we could hold a little ceremony near the track. ‘Of course,’ said Tom, who appeared to deal with all things ash scattering, ‘no problem at all. Many people like to use the finishing post, that’s as long as they’re not racing!’

So, on a bitterly cold grey Wednesday we found ourselves, after a short guided tour of the facilities (never one to miss a sale) stood beneath the finishing post at York Race course with a large tub of ashes. As we arrived at the post and Tom said his fair wells and good wishes it became clear that the world had lost a few racing fans over the course of the winter. Flowers clung to the post and piles of ash dotted the track side. We all looked at each other and secretly wondered what to say. We didn’t need to worry. Lydia and cousin, Daisy suddenly seized the opportunity and grabbed the pot of ash. No one else was getting a look in. ‘Come on,’ they both chorused furiously shaking the ashes over the grass. ‘Let’s be having you. Come and see the horses.’ They continued, chatting merrily away to their great uncle.

It was a good send off; something that WA would have liked.

We thawed out in Jamie’s Italian as a bit of a treat. It was good to enjoy the food without the strange feeling I had the last time we took Explorer George to the Manchester version for his birthday treat. Unbeknown to me throughout that last meal and proceeding drinks I was harbouring the Noro virus and hours later would discover the exacting peculiarities of being sick as a dog. It would be four days before I ate again so at least the last meal had been a fine one.

The day finished with The Marsden Write Out Loud open mike night. We’d landed back in the village just after the M62 rush hour (2 – 7) and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try out a couple of new poems to our monthly group. The secret must be out. Arriving in the Mechanics a little past the starting time I was greeted with a number of new faces and emergency chairs! Our normal sedate group of around ten to twelve people had swelled to well over thirty and everyone was raring to go. Some had just come for the pleasure of listening whilst others, including myself, were happy to read a couple of poems – just a little faster. I always find reading new work to an audience extremely rewarding. You get that instant hit of whether the poem makes the right emotional connections. The shorter introductions and speed reading had the desired effect and, along with the usual five or six, the day ended in the Riverhead.

Exactly two nights later the same emergency chairs where waiting for me again in the Mechanics, this time for the annual beer festival. It was a great way to end the week, sharing numerous local brews with friends and neighbours. Only towards the end of the night was I introduced to a Finnish lady who now lived next door to where I had spent most of my child hood. Small world! The village has changed so much over the last twenty years or so by becoming a set for countless films and TV programmes as well as a tourist centre and second home for people from Lancashire, so to hear that many of the old neighbours, including Donald with his infamous home brew and Alan from across the road where still there was strangely comforting.

It’s just a bright blue sky

Whilst searching the enclaves of zero plays within the Halls this week I came across a tune from what was one of my album of the years in 2012. It’s a proper start to finish record and my only regret so far is that I’ve not seen the band live. The video for Chapel Song by We Are Augustines was also included on the album, Rise Ye Sunken Ships and as I’m not a fan of freebies and extras at the end of a record the track was promptly unchecked and un-played.

It’s a great anthem and a fitting end to the week. Follow the link to watch the video.

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