“There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.” ~ Charles Dickens.
It has been a memorable week, and a week of memories. We spent one day sauntering (sauntering at brisk pace though, it was quite chilly) through the city center of Manchester, the city I was born in (but left at age seven). It was also the city I lived in for three years while training to be a nurse, but it was hard to find places that coincided with my memories. The big landmarks were there, but the city has been changed by acts of terror and by acts of progress. Modern structures are juxtaposed next to old ones. A mall that would not be out of place in the US looks out onto an area of great age – the Shambles, part of it built originally in the 16th century, with other buildings added in the 19th century.
Trams traversed the city streets, a new addition since my time 40 years ago. Pedestrians crossed the tramlines at will, with train whistles sounding a caution as needed. The attraction for us were the Christmas markets, stalls festooned with lights, selling an interesting assortment of cheeses and soaps; jewelry and liquor; carvings and candles. Foods of a diverse nature were everywhere: chips (English style); mussels; sausage rolls and pork pies; and the beautifully culture splicing ‘currywurst’. The Christmas markets originated in Germany in the Middle Ages but are now a standard in many other places. And how could I forget the availability of mulled gin and other variations on a hot alcoholic beverage! Security stood at the perimeter to make sure that alcohol was only consumed within the confines of the market. And a heavily armed police presence provided reminders that just down the street a concert attended by thousands had been tragically disrupted not long ago.
The next day we visited Chester, another town with which I have links. In my childhood I would visit cousins who lived there. In my nursing student years I would visit the ancient walled city with my friends, and this time my memory was truer to the present sights. Beautifully timbered buildings with shops and bars and pubs line the cobbled streets. Here in addition to more Christmas markets there were street performers: a fiddler who performed while walking a tight rope; a puppet who played the drums while singing a Nina Simone classic; the pedestrian only streets were filled with families out for a pre-Christmas distraction. The history of the city dates to Roman times in the 1st century AD. Parts of the Cathedral date to the 11th century, with most of it built in the 17th century. We only viewed it from the outside, but it is indeed impressive.
But this is Christmastime, and a visit to a Church or two provided those links with centuries of traditions: the Christmas carols and readings that celebrate the reason for the season. It was perhaps inevitable that those visits brought memories of my father flooding back. His was the voice I could hear belting out the cheerful hymns, I could see his arms conducting the choir and congregation, hushing us in the more somber lines. His was the tenor I could hear harmonizing, sometimes alternating with the bass line if that was more fun.
It is also a time of contrasts of geography, climate and landscapes. My eye adapts very easily to the tidy, rolling hillsides dotted with sheep, lined by dry stone walls or wintry hedges. I am currently in Wales (land of my forebears), and enjoying, drinking in, the mountains that dominate the landscape. I am far from my flat Florida home right now! And even though the mild winter has meant that there is no snow to be seen on the peaks and ridges, I love Snowdonia with an unconditional love, and accept the mountains when they are cloud draped and mysterious just as much as when they are snow capped and forbidding.
No trip to the UK is complete without visits to pubs, and I have done my best to sample as many as possible. On Boxing Day we visited the village of Beddgelert, located in a valley in Snowdonia where two rivers meet. Most of the buildings are constructed of dark stone, with rooves of slate. The pub we visited was originally the stables for a local hotel, and was built in the early 19th century. After a walk along the side of the busy river it was good to sit down in the pub and enjoy a drink and a bag of crisps (aka potato chips).
There is nothing like being in another country for feeling disconnected from your everyday life. Sometimes my phone has declared ‘No service’ thus effectively forcing me to be present and in the moment. As my camera it has faithfully recorded as much of the scenery as possible, helping to shore up a memory that sometimes becomes overloaded. Inevitably my wanders through the country of my birth and my ancestry has left me with mixed emotions, especially as my visits in the recent past were to visit my parents (along of course with my siblings and extended families), but the memories are good. And any tears that may have appeared are healthy, marking the impact of those who caused us to be here on earth.
Today we are expecting a congregation of Jones progeny; a coming together of various branches to eat, drink plenty tea, and laugh. And hopefully we will laugh loud enough that the angels in heaven will hear us, and smile. May you have had a wonderful Christmas, family, and a blessed, peaceful and healthy New Year.