Topsham Celebrates

Topsham loves to celebrate – from Charter Day to Christmas Carols at the oldest pub in town. My exploration of our local festivities includes the scandal of a clergyman involved in illegal Tar Barrel Rolling, and a newly revived Wassail ceremony, complete with a robin and a shotgun. There’s also a favourite Topsham recipe that you won’t find anywhere else!

Hidden Topsham

This is part one a look at ‘Hidden Topsham’, and it’s a series of invitations for you to explore certain nooks and crannies of the town. One of the delights I’ve experienced from living in Topsham is the continual discovery of features and stories which are hidden from normal view. Follow me around the town to meet up with an old fishing trawler, the shade of Thomas Hardy, a listed telegraph pole, and the strange story of a secret sect. Topsham is a town of unexpected twists and turns, as I’ll reveal!

Singing at the Holy Ground

‘…There’s whisky in the jar!’ – A tuneful roar of voices giving out the last line of the chorus…a moment’s hush…a thunder of clapping – laughter – chairs scraping on the floor – feet rushing, coming my way, downstairs. I make my way up, cradling my guitar carefully, against the flow. Smell of cigarette smoke, faint wash of stale beer, touch of rough jackets, knobbly jumpers as I push my way up and through into the warm fug of the club room…This is the story of my love affair with folk music in the 1960s, beginning in the back room of Birmingham pubs and ending with a visit to Cecilia Costello, an old lady renowned for her compelling version of ‘The Grey Cock’, also known as ‘The Lover’s Ghost’. Along the way there was a showdown with my headmistress, a friendship with Radio Ballads producer Charles Parker, and many meetings with delightful Irish singers. I hope you’ll find it entertaining! And there are a few musical recordings to enjoy as well.

Pangur Ban and the Old Irish Cats

Over a thousand years ago, an Irish monk sat in his cell in the depths of the night, watching his cat hunt for mice as he tried to write a philosophical text. However, what he composed that night was in fact a poem, a touching tribute to Pangur Ban, the white cat who kept him company. Enchanted by the poem, I looked a little further into the role of cats in old Ireland and medieval society, and have illustrated it with portraits of cats from the period.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

We’re about to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas. Or are we? The calendar at this time of year is a complex tangle of Old Christmas, New Year, Ephiphany, Twelfth Night Old and New, which is surprisingly hard to navigate! Here I uncover the fundamental tradition, of the twelve days which are ‘time out’, both for humans and as part of a strange astronomical phenomenon. With examples from Russia, Spain and the UK.