November rarely saw the first of the winter winds and rain, bonfire night in Rye was lucky as we had a five hour window of dry weather. With the celebrations over the rain fell from the sky in torrents and the wind rose to storm force. Few people realize that through the night those that ran the show, were busy clearing the streets, ready for the dawn on remembrance day. The collection this year I am pleased to tell you, was a record, though more money is needed to put a show on next year. The storm force winds of bonfire night failed to blow the leaves off a number of oak trees and they remained green into late November . This year I have noticed that there are no acorns on any of the oaks. The largest acorn this year is only pea sized. I do not know the reason why and have never known a year that no acorns fell from the trees. It will be interesting to see the results of their absence as the wild boar in the woods around Rye rely on them to fatten themselves up for winter. The grey squirrel also depends on the acorn so with this years dearth of acorns lets see what the outcome will be. Last month the wife and I drove through Oxfordshire and Hertfordshire and were amazed by the number of Red Kites we counted. I was informed that the R.S.B. had a releasing program in this area where they have re-introduced the bird over recent years. They have done the same thing with other types of capture and have caused a storm to erupt among gamekeepers as the type of bird release require carrion on which to survive. As farmers are not allowed to leave dead animals on the land more than 24 hours the birds are starving and turning to killing the game. The quicker man learns to leave nature alone and let it take its own course the better this planet will be.
As a young lad I loved to listen to all the old men telling each other their stories. Little did I know then that what they really were doing was reliving their lives, what nowadays is called nostalgia. To them it was life and the pace of life today is nothing like the way they lived it. They really had to live. Today everything is made for you to sample. Things out of the normal working day are now called leisure. To our ancestors it was the time to try and improve your life or even to keep alive. Any graft out of working hours had to achieve a goal and at the same time bring in an income. The nights spent out on the marsh walking miles in all kinds of weather was not done for fun and anything that had gone wrong had to be laughed at or it would have driven you mad. Risks were taken that any man today would not dream of. Those old boys of my young youth had known no better. To them the world was a crude, evil place at times. The last 1914-1918 war had taught them that life was precious. Like their fathers had told them, “you had to look after yourself; no one was going to do it for you.” Pensions were virtually non existant and the workhouse at the bottom of Strand Hill had been the last place for many of their predecessors.
So looking back now, I realise that many of the tales they told had a core of truth to them. Each time the story they told of a cold windy night, it was always colder than any time before and each time the wind was stronger than the last time. The same goes today; always the first or the largest this or that. Like as their minds black out the good days; it’s always the rough ones, when things go wrong that you remember. When all goes according to plan, nothing untoward sticks out to remember. How many miles do you travel a year in your car? You don’t remember this or that trip; it’s only the time you get lost or have a puncture.
Those old men left their fingerprints on everything they did. They put their lives into it unlike today; we only leave a mechanical mark. All the ditches and banks you see on the marsh, these men made with a spade in their hands. Today a man makes a hundred yards with no effort. Many houses in Winchelsea have a mark in them somewhere if you can find it. The carpenter would take his pencil from behind his ear and write his name or something onto a piece of wood. The stonemason carved his mark unlike today; the workmen are not interested, it’s all mechanical.
I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.
Rye’s Own December 2008
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