Go Local Magazine Columns

My very first Go Local column published in November 2017

Go Local is a monthly magazine which is delivered to 6,200 homes in the YO62 postcode area which covers mainly the beautiful district of Ryedale in North Yorkshire. My dad used to write a column every month for it, and I was delighted to be asked to continue where he left off.

Column 1, November 2017: Farewell to the Countryman

A few months have passed now since my dad Peter Walker, passed away. He died on 21st April this year after being diagnosed with prostate cancer ten years earlier. Although the original prognosis was very poor, and we expected to lose him then, he surprised everyone by responding remarkably well to treatment. As a family, we were very thankful to still have him around, and for those ten years, he dealt with his illness, the regular injections, blood samples, trips to the doctor and hospital, and a smorgasbord of medication with good humour and a matter-of-fact acceptance some would say is typical of Yorkshire folk.

The medication, which had worked so well for so long, stopped working earlier this year, and Dad’s decline was rapid. We cared for him at his beloved home in Ampleforth in his last days, until he was admitted to St Leonard’s Hospice in York on the morning of 21st April. He died later that evening. Although they were very difficult days, I’m grateful that when the end came, it was quick and he didn’t have to suffer for very long, as those who have experienced caring for someone with cancer will understand. It’s a cruel, cruel illness.

Dad was 80, and continued to write until a few weeks before he died. Even when he was no longer able to put finger to keyboard, he was writing tales in his head which he would share with those of us who were caring for him during his last days.

To Dad, writing was akin to breathing, he simply could not exist without it. He was also very determined, which was demonstrated early on. How many other budding writers would prevail after having 13 separate books rejected by publishers? But Dad did, and his first novel, Carnaby and the Hijackers, was finally published in 1967 (a very fortuitous year for him, as I was born that year too!).

Growing up, I just thought of it as his second job after a day’s work as a policeman. He’d come home, have his tea, then disappear into his study for two hours. He did this religiously, every night. I must mention my mum here, because she gave my dad the time to write by looking after us four children single-handedly for much of the time, which importantly meant he could earn extra money. Dad’s Catholic faith was very important to him, and he wanted to send his children to the top Catholic schools in the area, but a policeman’s salary would not support that, so he wrote and wrote and wrote, and achieved his goal.

I’m sure most of you know about his big break, which was having his Constable series of books, written under the pseudonym Nicholas Rhea, picked up by Yorkshire TV to become Heartbeat, one of the most successful TV drama series ever screened. Dad was enormously proud, and its popularity was astonishing to him. I remember driving through Goathland (where the programme was filmed) and my jaw dropped on seeing the swarms of people walking around. Literally busloads of fans had descended on this once sleepy village. For some of the locals, it was an unwelcome intrusion, but for many more the TV series brought much-needed income and jobs to the area and it pinned the North York Moors to the tourist map.  Since Dad’s death, we’ve received countless expressions of gratitude from people who own moor-based businesses saying they benefitted directly from Dad’s achievement.

And on that note, I’d like to say an enormous thank you for all the warm comments and tributes that we received since Dad died. They really did help us get us through those very difficult first days and continue to help us, although the difficult days are less frequent now and we are finding joy in the treasured memories we hold of him. What struck me most in many of the tributes and cards we received was how many people mentioned his humility and his kindness, and that was my dad through and through. He liked to make people happy.

I was delighted to be asked to take over where he left off in writing for this wonderful little magazine. He spoke very highly of it, and he was very loyal and supportive of local businesses. But it is quite a daunting prospect, for Dad’s shoes are very big ones to fill. I appeal in advance for your understanding and forgiveness – I’m not my dad, and do not possess his encyclopaedic knowledge of all things country, nor his expert Yorkshire knowledge, but I do have access to his huge archive, of which I intend to make very good use. He kept every article he wrote, so I am looking back and seeing what he was writing about 40-odd years ago, and will use that as inspiration for my pieces. And if I can in some way fill just the big toe of one of his considerable shoes, then I will be content.

Farewell Dad, I hope I make you as proud of me as I was of you.

Visit: countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

Column 2, December 2017: First Christmas without Dad

This is our first Christmas without Dad, the writer Peter Walker (aka Mr Heartbeat), and it is doubtless going to be tough without him, but we will be sustained by memories of last year when for the first time in many years, just about our whole family gathered at my parents’ house for Christmas Day. As it turns out, I’m so glad we did, as we had no idea it would be Dad’s last one.

As I mentioned in last month’s tribute, I am going to be looking back into his archive from the past 40-odd years to discover what he was writing about then, and using it to inspire my columns for today.

What I have found is a fantastic treasure trove of material, packed full of interesting memories, facts and topics that I would otherwise not have discovered had I not decided to use his archive. I feel very blessed and lucky that by reading his old columns, I can still hear his voice and still feel a connection with him, a privilege that many bereaved people do not have. I never take this privilege for granted.

Looking back to a column from Christmas Eve 1977, Dad was exploring why we associated Christmas with snow when in reality, white Christmases had always been few and far between. He goes on to say: “I’m sure we owe a lot to Bing Crosby’s famous song, ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’ which is currently in the hit parade, and which is surely destined to become part of our Christmas folklore.”

Well, forty years later, his prediction has very much come true. Can any of us imagine the festive season without Bing’s most popular song? I’m sure by the time you read this column, you will have already heard it several million times, along with many, many, many other festive ‘favourites’.

Christmas music is a bit like Marmite, you either love it, or hate it. I love it, but am firmly in the ‘must be embargoed until December’ camp. It feels wrong hearing it before we open the first door on our Advent Calendar, and because you hear so much of it elsewhere, it is not permitted within my own walls until the first two weeks of December have passed by. That’s because we get our tree then, and it is our family tradition that the first Christmas music is played as we decorate it. From then on, Chez Walker is pretty much filled with wall to wall festive sounds for the rest of the month. I’m sure my kids love it really, even though they spend practically every waking hour with earphones glued to their heads (I can’t imagine it’s to avoid hearing those fabulous tunes, is it?).

Christmas has become a whole lot easier now the kids are older. I had such fond memories of the excitement of going to sleep on Christmas Eve myself, waking the next morning to find that Santa had been and left a pillowcase full of goodies at the bottom of my bed. So when I had children, I wanted to recreate that kind of magic for them.

Well, let me warn you rookie parents out there, that was a big mistake! For some reason, my children didn’t sleep as soundly as I did and in deciding to have stockings in their rooms rather than downstairs, I made a rod for my own back.

The year that I decided it all had to change remains etched in my mind. It was very late Christmas Eve, and I was the only one still up, waiting until it was safe to deliver the stockings to my children’s rooms. The younger two were fine, all sound asleep. I tiptoed into my eldest son’s room (he was seven), trying to keep the stockings from making crinkly paper sounds, ready to gently set it down on the end of his bed. Suddenly he sat bolt upright. I froze, mid-tiptoe. “Has he been yet?” my son asked, half awake. Thankfully, I was quick enough to shield the stocking from him. “Not yet. Go back to sleep.” I waited another half an hour, and tried again. Same thing happened. Another hour went by, same again.

By now, it was about 1am, and everyone else in the house was sparko. I felt so alone and tired. For those of you who host Christmas, you will understand that kind of fatigue. After all the mayhem of Christmas shopping, present wrapping, meal planning, meal preparing, bedrooms to clean etc etc, I knew I’d have to be up with the lark with the excited children, and then straight on to preparing the huge Christmas lunch.

I finally managed to deposit the stocking at about 2am. Incredibly, he still woke up, but thankfully only after I’d put the stocking down. “Yes, he’s been,” I said, almost delirious with fatigue, “But you can’t open your presents until you’ve been to sleep.” And so he did.

And I vowed, “Never again.”

The next year, I thought I’d have a difficult job persuading the children to hang their stockings by the fire. “Poor Santa is so busy on Christmas Eve so I’m sure he’d be grateful if you put your stockings by the chimney. Then he won’t have to walk all the way upstairs…” I braced myself for the coming battle, the disappointment, the “But why, Mummy?”

They looked at me, thought for a moment, then all nodded in agreement. I nearly cried with relief!

Now my boys range from age 15 to 21, and I still do stockings for them by the fireplace, but there are fewer presents to wrap, and all I have to do is retreat to the living room and holler “Don’t come in!” as I shut the door.

To all of you out there working so hard to ensure your loved ones enjoy their Christmas, I salute you. To those of you enjoying the result of their hard labours, make sure you do the washing up!

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Visit: countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

Column 3, February 2018: Whatever the weather

Well here we are, already a month or so into 2018. Memories of Christmas and New Year are retreating, and no doubt we are all sticking to our resolutions as we always do (I’m winking as I write this!).

I was disappointed that the weather over Christmas wasn’t very Christmassy, but mild, wet and damp. I do wonder why we (me included!) can’t accept that actually, in the UK, that IS Christmassy weather.

We British do have a reputation for being obsessed by the weather. I check the forecast most days, even if I’m not planning on going anywhere, and even if what’s going on outside my door will have no impact on me whatsoever. I just need to know.

I think the reason we are so obsessed is because it is so changeable. Temperature can vary by ten degrees from one day to the next. It can be bright warm sunshine on Monday, and blowing a blizzard by Tuesday.

In an archive article that my dad (writer Peter Walker) wrote in late January forty years ago, he says: ‘Forecasting continues to be a most uncertain art and even my youngest child, aged ten, reckons her school forecasts are more accurate than those produced by radio and TV.’

Well, that child (i.e. me) can’t boast to know better than the Met Office or the BBC Weather Centre these days, and in fact technology and communication have improved so much that they get it right now far more than they get it wrong. You can even get an hour-by-hour forecast, which certainly helps if you’re planning a day out. I can’t imagine that in 1978 Dad would have dreamed the advances that have been made in forecasting.

The Met Office, which has been issuing forecasts for the past 150 years, now uses a team of 300 meteorologists on the ground, alongside physicists, mathematicians and a ‘supercomputer’ to collate and assess global information and data that is constantly fed from a number of sources, including satellites, radars, weather stations, ocean buoys, weather balloons and ships.

As well as your daily forecast, they are now able to more accurately predict high-impact weather events, such as storms, floods, blizzards and droughts, so that ourselves, our local councils and our government can be better prepared when natural disasters strike (well, we can but hope!). They deliver 4.5 million forecasts each and every day, and information is updated hourly.

In 1978, we’d have had to wait for the weather bulletin to be broadcast after the news, or consult the daily paper for a forecast that would likely have become inaccurate by the time we read it. Today, seven-day, ten-day, monthly and even longer forecasts for anywhere in the world are instantly available via the internet or an app on your phone.

I began to understand why other cultures are less obsessed with the weather when I spoke to my brother who was staying at a Thai Buddhist temple in Leeds last month. His bedroom was very cold, and had draughty single-glazed window panes. The boiler system was also not great, so the radiators weren’t contributing much heat. He explained that the concepts of heating systems and double-glazing were quite alien to visiting Thai’s as they never had to worry about the variations in temperature or variable weather patterns that we experience in Western Europe. For them, it is hot and sunny for six months, then hot and rainy for six months.

Today, the Met Office boasts that in 2017, 92% of their next-day temperature predictions were right within two degrees Celsius, and that 91% of their wind speed forecasts were right within five knots. Also, their four-day forecast is now as accurate as their one-day forecast 30 years ago.

If only all this consistency in forecasting could be translated into consistent sun in the summer and consistent snow on Christmas Day. But I suppose we can’t have everything.

Visit: countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

Column 4, March 2018: Marching Hopefully into Spring

Isn’t it lovely to finally have the feeling that we have seen the back of winter (although I am touching wood as I write this, as to say it out loud or to write it down is like tempting fate. Winter will no doubt have the last laugh and send us one final ferocious cold snap!). For a number of reasons, this one has seemed particularly drawn out and so the longer days, the lighter nights, the buds on the trees, and the emergence of long dormant plants offer us a sense of hope that better, warmer weather is not far away.

I was reading a column my dad wrote from March 1978 where he explained how difficult he found it to adequately describe these fascinating weeks when the countryside starts to wake up and come back to life, and the feelings that it generated within him. He instead resorted to the writings of others whom he thought did a better job, such as these words from Alexander Pope:

‘In that soft season, when descending showers
Call forth the greens and wake the rising flowers;
When opening buds salute the welcome day
And Earth relenting feels the genial ray.’

And these from H.G.Adams:

‘A bursting into greenness,
A waking as from sleep,
A twitter and a warble,
That make the pulses leap;
A watching, as in childhood,
For the flowers that, one by one,
Open their golden petals,
To woo the fitful sun,
A gust, a flash, a gurgle,
A wish to shout and sing,
As, filled with hope and gladness,
We hail the vernal Spring.’

Just reading those short verses brings a smile to my face and a sense of hope that my favourite season of the year is just around the corner.

It is well documented that the arrival of Spring brightens our moods, and Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) has been a recognised condition since the 1990s. This is where it is believed that a reduction in exposure to sunlight, longer nights, colder days and extended periods of bad weather can cause some people to suffer melancholy, lethargy and even severe depression. It has its own entry on the NHS Choices website, with treatment ranging from increasing outdoor activity, lightbox therapy, counselling and antidepressants.

But a large-scale US study published in the journal ‘Clinical Psychological Science’ in 2016 casts doubt on whether it is a bona fide condition. The study showed that levels of depression in adults were consistent across different latitudes, seasons and levels of exposure to sunlight, and that they didn’t increase in winter.

Of course, that may be true, and I do wonder if there are people who get depressed during hot sunny weather? Not everyone likes the heat. The thing is, there are people I know who are definitely less happy in winter, and if sitting in front of a lightbox helps, then why not?

I recently heard that the light emitted from the screen of a tablet or mobile phone has the same effect as daylight, so if you are struggling to get to sleep at night, then you need to stop looking at your screens at least an hour and half before you go to bed.

I have adopted this approach in recent weeks, and have gone back to doing what I used to do before going to sleep, which is to read an actual book. But not just any old book. I’ve decided to work my way through my dad’s back catalogue. The first book he had published was a crime novel called Carnaby and the Hijackers, which was published in 1967. There are 11 in the Carnaby series, and I’m now on number two, Carnaby and the Gaolbreakers, which is set mainly in the Ryedale and Hambleton areas.

There are two main advantages of this. The first, I’m getting to know my dad’s back catalogue intimately, which is wonderful, and the second, I am definitely sleeping better!

I would like to express my thanks to the many people who have sent their condolences, prayers and good wishes following the death of my sister, Tricia Walker, on 8th January. The past few months have been a very difficult time for our family, as Tricia’s cancer progressed so quickly and came so soon after my Dad Peter Walker passed away. Your good wishes are helping to keep us strong. Thank you.

Visit: countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

Column 5, April 2018: A bird on the hand

One of the benefits of using my Dad’s archive to research my columns is the incredible way in which it is expanding my rural knowledge. In particular, I am discovering more and more about our native bird life. Both my parents were (and my mum still is) keen bird watchers, and had installed several feeders and nesting boxes in the garden, as well as leaving binoculars by the living room window to observe the fascinating activities of their feathered friends.

By 1978, when Dad was 42, he was already well known as a rural expert and his Countryman’s Diary had been running for two years in the Darlington and Stockton Times. He was still a policeman, though, by then Press Officer for the North Riding Constabulary with the rank of inspector. He was often consulted by his colleagues at the Newby Wiske headquarters on country matters, and one day someone asked him to help identify a bird that had been spotted in the grounds.

The colourful little creature resembled a mini woodpecker and had been seen climbing head first down a tree trunk. It was about the size of a finch, with slate-grey feathers, a peach-tinged breast, and appeared to be wearing what looked like the mask of Zorro – a black stripe running from its beak, past its eyes to the back of its head.

Dad immediately identified one of his favourite species, the nuthatch, and went on to recount why he was so fond of that particular bird.

He had grown up in the village of Glaisdale on the North York Moors and spent much of his youth exploring nearby Arncliffe Wood. One day he found a nest in a hole ten feet up a beech tree, and was intrigued by the fact that the hole had been reduced in size by layers of mud applied around the edges.

In fact this is the nuthatch’s ingenious security measure, designed to prevent larger interlopers gatecrashing and squatting in its home. The nest inside is lined with wafer-thin pieces of bark stripped from trees like the pine, sometimes supplemented with dried leaves, which provides a cosy, dry safe haven.

Dad was thrilled with his find, as in his youth nuthatches were not common in the north of England. But by 1978, they had started to become more populous in Yorkshire and today are seen as far north as Scotland, with numbers in our region healthily robust.

They are the only native bird that is known to walk both down and up tree trunks, and can be found in mature woods and parkland, avoiding trees that are exposed to industrial pollution. As its name suggests, it feeds on hazelnuts, beech mast and acorns, using its powerful beak to peck at the outer shell until it breaks open.

On the subject of birds, I was very fortunate to be invited to the York Bird of Prey Centre for the launch of the Tourism Association of North Yorkshire (TANY) 2018 visitor guide. TANY is a small, independent organisation that relies on volunteers, and does sterling work in promoting our region, especially Ryedale, Hambleton and the North York Moors, to attract tourists to our beautiful part of the world.

I’d contributed a tribute article about my dad, which is why I was asked along. What I didn’t expect was to be able to sit among the birds as they flew freely around us, tempted by morsels of meat their handlers were placing in certain spots. We were invited to handle the birds ourselves, and I got up close and personal with a stunning barn owl, a southern crested caracara (a type of falcon), a sweet tawny owl and a majestic golden eagle. We learned about the valuable education and conservation work the centre does, and the reason that most of the birds were out of their nesting boxes and lively was because they have plenty of free flying time outside of their aviaries (I must admit, I was wondering about that!).

It was a fascinating day, and our whole posse, with an age range of two to 82, was thoroughly entertained. I’d certainly recommend a visit.

More information: visityorkshire.com, yorkbirdofprey.co.uk

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Column 6, May 2018: The majesty of our minsters

After a winter that seemed determined to cling on by its fingertips until the very last moment, the temperature is finally rising consistently and we are able at last to plan more outdoor activities that don’t involve stripping the Sports Direct or Go Outdoors shelves bare of all their snow, rain and wind-proof essentials.

We are very blessed in North Yorkshire to have an abundance of beautiful places to visit and breathtaking public paths to walk upon when the weather allows. If your interest involves the historical, then we are bursting with fascinating buildings within our county borders.

York Minster is arguably the most famous building in Yorkshire, and with that in mind, we imagine minsters to be large, imposing places of worship. But close to where I grew up is the small village of Stonegrave, which has its very own minster, the whole of which would probably fit inside York Minster’s North Transept. Not too far away is Kirkdale Minster, again another small and very old building, well worth a visit as it dates from around A.D.1060 and features a rare ancient sundial above its door.

A minster is a church that was established during the Anglo-Saxon period after Pope Gregory (A.D.590-604) sent out missionaries to convert the heathens in England. It was mainly a teaching establishment, or one attached to a monastery, and as such was known as a monasterium, which entered the Saxon language as ‘mynster’ and is where the modern word ‘minster’ comes from.

A cathedral, on the other hand, is the most important church within a bishop’s diocese and is so called as it houses the ‘cathedra’, or the throne that only the bishop is entitled to sit upon. This came about because originally bishops dressed the same way as ordinary priests, and so to distinguish them, they were given a dedicated chair within the church that only they could occupy. In 1836, Ripon Minster became a cathedral after the diocese of Ripon was established and later in 2014, alongside Bradford and Wakefield, it became one of three cathedrals within Leeds Anglican diocese.

The Church of Holy Trinity at Stonegrave was first mentioned as a religious establishment in a letter dated A.D.757 sent by Pope Paul I to Eadbert, King of Northumbria in which he asked for the monasteries of Stonegrave, Coxwold and Jarrow to be restored to their proper owners, and to the service of God.

Very little of that early Saxon church remains, although according to my dad Peter Walker’s archives, a relic can be seen immediately inside the south door. This is an ancient stone cross which is believed to be one of the finest examples of a Saxon wheel-headed stone known as a Celtic cross. It dates to around the tenth century and is unusual because of the carvings upon it. One panel shows the Ascension into Heaven, while another depicts an evangelist holding on to a book.

The ancient church was completely rebuilt in the Norman period, and then another total restoration occurred in 1862-3, which sadly obliterated some of its more ancient features, although, as well as the ancient cross, an oak chancel screen from 1637 remains, as do a pulpit and oak panels dating from around the same time.

When my dad wrote about Stonegrave Minster in 1978, he said: ‘No minster has been constructed since the Reformation, and it seems this can no longer happen.’ And that was the case until the Church of England designated additional minsters by bestowing an honorific title on certain parish churches of regional significance in recognition of their importance and the contribution they make to their communities. In our region, that includes Dewsbury (1994), Rotherham (2004), Doncaster (2004), Halifax (2009), Leeds (2012) and most recently Holy Trinity, Hull, which was made a minster by Archbishop John Sentamu on May 13th 2017.

(Sources: yorkminster.org, hullminster.org, ampleforthbenefice.org)

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Column 7, June 2018: A coypu conundrum

As a writer of a number of countryside columns, I often talk about creatures within our borders that that are under threat or in decline, such as certain species of birds or butterflies.

But I was reading through one of my dad’s columns from 40 years ago where he was talking about an animal that had been introduced to this country and had since become a pest. It made me wonder how many creatures have invaded our shores in recent times to become a threat to our native flora and fauna, and what is being done about it.

The animal Dad was talking about was a coypu, which I have only ever seen in the zoo, but in 1978 they were a very real pest living wild in the British countryside. The coypu is a large, rodent-like animal that lives along the edges of waterways, often mistaken for an otter or very large rat, and it had become a menace in Norfolk and Suffolk after being brought to this country in 1929 to be bred for its fur. Native to South America, some of the fur farmers in this country were less than diligent with their security, and of the 49 farms breeding them, more than half reported escapees between 1929 and 1939.

At first they were not considered a threat, but they quickly adapted to the British climate, finding their way into our wetlands and river systems where they created large burrows in the banks, while feeding themselves on weeds, rushes and local crops of beetroot and flower bulbs.

Coypu are prolific breeders, and mate all year round, producing four or five babies each time. These youngsters are fertile from just a few months old, and quickly move on to establish their own burrows, find mates and raid the local crops.

The proliferation of coypu soon began doing serious damage to the river banks and flood defences of Norfolk and north Suffolk, which began collapsing, threatening the surrounding low-lying land, another alarming consequence for local farmers. The coypu began to spread further afield, working their way into neighbouring counties, and by the 1960s it was firmly established here, with numbers peaking at 200,000. It became clear that something had to be done, and such was the threat that rather than trying to control the population, a programme of compete eradication was implemented. The main technique was to use a team of trappers in the most densely affected areas. At first it seemed to be successful, and by 1963, the population of coypu was reduced by 90%, and the large team of trappers was scaled down. However, we now believe the main reason for the decline was in fact the harsh winter of 1962/3, as not long afterwards, the coypu population was yet again on the march.

By 1978, they were again becoming extremely troublesome and my dad wrote in June that year: “If they have a value, it is their ability to clean out the weeds of canals by eating the tissues around the roots, but this visitor to our country is, unfortunately, rapidly heading for the classification of ‘pest’.”

He was not wrong, but realising the original eradication strategy was ineffective, the Government introduced a new, more sophisticated plan following a long-term study of the ecology and breeding characteristics of the animal. The aim was to eradicate them from our shores within 10 years, and by 1989, they had achieved that goal (And so now I know why I have only ever seen them in zoos!).

Invasive species are not limited to animals, but also some plants, and together they can have a seriously negative impact on agriculture, forestry, wildlife, habitats and biodiversity, which of course not only has an impact on our natural surroundings, but also affects our economy. Today, the Government has a specific ‘Invasive Non-native Species Strategy’ and cites a ‘top ten’ of the most troublesome invaders, which are Japanese Knotweed, American Signal Crayfish, American Mink, Giant Hogweed, Floating Pennywort, Himalayan Balsam, Australian Swamp-Stonecrop, Chinese Mitten Crab, Parrots Feather, and Topmouth Gudgeon. For more information, visit nonnativespecies.org.

(Source: ‘The Eradication of Muskrats and Coypus from Britain’ by L M Gosling and S J Baker).

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Column 8, July 2018: A simply Devonly time!

So with July upon us we are well and truly into summer now, and it is the time of year when many of us are thinking of our imminent annual holiday, if we are lucky enough to be having one (and some of us will be wondering if we will ever get our bikini body back, or is that just me?).

My dad Peter Walker, the writer famous for his ‘Heartbeat’ books, and a Go Local columnist, was one of those people who preferred to spend his holiday time exploring all that this country had to offer, rather than wanting to go abroad. In fact, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times he did go travelling further afield.

I have discovered from his archives that in July 1978, he and my mum took a trip to Devon. This has come as news to me, as they had very few holidays, and I can’t remember this trip at all. As I would have been 11, it’s not something I thought I would have forgotten, so I phoned my mum to ask her all about it.

As it turns out, it adds another piece to the jigsaw of my dad’s life that I am discovering since he died, things that I didn’t know before, or of which I only had a patchy knowledge. When this happens, it makes you wonder why you didn’t ask these about things before. But then again, you always think you have plenty of time to ask your parents questions until, suddenly, it’s too late.

The beginning of this tale actually started when Dad was still alive. He once told me the story of when he was press officer for North Yorkshire Police, and he’d been doing the job for a few years. He was thoroughly enjoying the role when a new chief constable was appointed.

The new chief called my dad into his office an announced in words to this affect: “I’m going to employ a civilian to become our press officer, Walker. In the police, we’re not trained for that sort of thing, we don’t have the skills. You need a professional who knows what he’s doing when it comes to dealing with the media and writing press releases and all that. It’s not that you’re not doing a good job, Walker, but my last press officer was a proper writer. He’d had nine crime novels published, you know.”

“Oh really?” replied my dad, “I’ve had 29 published.”

He let him keep his job.

So going back to the phone call to my mother, I found out that this trip was a result of that initial conversation with his chief constable, who still sent my dad down to Devon to meet this press officer because he thought he could teach my dad a thing or two. As was quite common in those days, my mum was allowed to go with him, but once they arrived, this press officer, upon speaking with my dad, came to the conclusion that there really was nothing he could teach him. He suggested that my parents not waste the trip, but instead, turn it into a holiday, which they duly did!

And so, as was often the case with my dad, the trip provided plenty of material for subsequent books and columns, and the 1978 piece that sparked off this column here is a round-up of the places they visited in Devon, which really impressed my dad, including Dartmoor, Princetown, Plymouth and Buckfastleigh – although I think what impressed him most were the Devon cream teas!

I wonder what he would have thought about me taking over his columns? I guess I should have asked him.

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Column 9, August 2018: A rather bumpy ride

For some bizarre reason, I still keep a traditional paper road atlas in my car. It’s dated 2005, is really tatty, and I haven’t looked at it for at least the past five years, as I now use Google Maps and the Sat Nav on my phone.

I’m a little like my dad Peter Walker (the Heartbeat writer and Go Local columnist), in that I find it difficult to throw out things that were once useful, but are no longer used, especially things like books and maps. Dad had a large collection of maps, some fairly recent, others from way back when no doubt the road system was somewhat different.

It was just such a map that got us into a spot of bother on one family outing. Writing in August 1978, Dad confidently states: “We discovered a foolproof method of making an outing more interesting, and that is to use an old map.”

I vaguely remember this trip, and the intended destination was Malham Cove. We stopped off for a mooch in Grassington, then headed off towards Kilnsey, quite famous among the rock climbing community for its impressive crag. The old map we were following showed a small road from Kilnsey to Malham.

We missed the turning at first, as it wasn’t signposted, and perhaps that should have been a warning. But going back, we spotted a gap between two houses that corresponded with the old map, and so off we went.

Before long though, the tarmac road turned into a rocky track, but this did not deter my determined dad. In his article he says, “But the map said it would bring us out near Malham, so we continued.”

This made me giggle, because in his account, it sounds like we made a calm, group decision to carry on, but in reality it was probably nothing like that. Although Dad was a very kind and tolerant man, once he’d made his mind up about something, he could be very stubborn.

My mum, and possibly us children too, would have been urging him quite vociferously to turn back and go the long way round. But Dad would have steadfastly stuck to his guns, wanting to prove himself right and the rest of us wrong.

He talks about how his ‘low slung car’ was perhaps not the most suitable for such an escapade. He omits to mention that in fact it was a vintage Jaguar (although in 1978 it was only 10 years old) and the following sentence will make classic car enthusiasts weep: “We continued, the old car bouncing and groaning across the rough surface which by now had been designated ‘Unsuitable for Motors’.”

And still my dad wouldn’t stop, and we climbed and climbed, until the rough stone track turned into an even rougher grass track set in cobbles, which Dad identified as an old drovers’ road. Finally, without actually admitting he’d got it wrong, he stopped the car.

He says: “We concluded the journey in a field of cows high on the hills above Wharfedale with stirring views below and the Pennines all around.” In other words, “Well, I might not have got us to Malham, and I might well have irreversibly damaged the car suspension, but just look at those views!” And the views really were magnificent.

We went for a walk, climbing even higher, and looking back we could see our old Jaguar sat alone among the sheep and cows, a sky blue flash in the middle of a vast expanse of green. On returning home, Dad discovered that the road was known as Mastiles Lane, and used to be a main highway for travellers, but by then, and still today, is used mainly by hikers and bikers.

We never did make it to Malham, but those who have been know that although it is very beautiful, it is often heaving with visitors. So I’m glad we found our own special spot away from the crowds, despite the bumpy ride there!

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

Column 10, September 2018: Dead as a deodand

When my dad (the Heartbeat writer and Go Local columnist) was a bobby patrolling the streets of Whitby in the 1960s, it was the custom back then that if you were called to a sudden death, you automatically became the ‘coroner’s officer’ which meant you took responsibility for the dead person throughout the whole process until they were released for burial. This would include attending post mortems, investigating the cause of death, liaising with bereaved loved ones and attending inquests. Today, ‘coroner’s officer’ is a role in itself and they can be serving police officers, civilian police staff or local authority employees.

Dad often found himself being sent to sudden deaths because it involved a lot of form-filling, and most officers hated it. But not my dad, as it called on upon his writing abilities, and so he earned himself the nickname Form 48 Walker after the main document that had to be completed.

I found an article in his archives from September 1978 in which he writes about the role of the coroner who would have to hold an inquest where there was reasonable cause to suspect a violent or unnatural death, a death from an unknown cause, or a death in prison or police custody.

He uses a word that I had not come across until I read this article. He says of the coroner: “No longer does he concern himself with deodands.”

Dad explains that ‘deodand’ was a word used since the earliest days of coroners and referred to the item that caused, or was responsible for, the death of a person. It could be a knife, a gun, a rock or indeed anything! Said item would have to be forfeited, and as such, was under the supervision of the coroners (I did wonder what happened if bare hands were used to strangle someone! How would they be forfeited?).

In 1227, a man was killed by a cart that was drawn by two horses with a pig on board, and the whole lot was declared ‘deodand’, although more often it was just a wheel that was confiscated, as defects with those were often the cause of carting accidents.

The idea was that the offending item would be given to God, and hence the name, as ‘Deo’ means God in Latin. The church would then decide how the deodand could be used to help the relatives of the deceased, perhaps by selling it and giving them the proceeds.

Over time, the Crown took over the role, and the deodand system continued until relatively modern times. But as modes of transport became more sophisticated, the system faced potentially complicated situations. For example, what would they do if a ship sank killing its passengers? Or as the age of the train dawned, what would happen if many people died in a train crash? They couldn’t realistically confiscate a whole train, and huge sums of money were at stake too. In the end, Parliament abolished the practice in 1846, due to these potential complications presented by the engineering advancements of the modern era.

Dad had a lot of tales to tell around deaths that he dealt with when he was a bobby, some sad, some shocking, some morbidly funny and some just downright bizarre. I hope one day to collate them all into a book as they really do deserve to be heard.

The one that most sticks in my mind is about the first time he had to go to a mortuary. As Dad walked in, he was greeted by a sight that never left him.

The mortuary attendant was perched on the edge of a table next to a bowl of recently excavated entrails casually reading the paper and eating his lunch. He greeted Dad, then leaned towards the dead body in front of him and pulled out a scotch egg from a lunch box balanced on the unfortunate dead man’s chest.

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

Column 11, October 2018: Time to get corny

You probably noticed, thanks to the long, hot, dry summer we have just had, that our farmers gathered in their cereal crops earlier than normal this year. Where I live, they were all done by the middle of August, which seems a long way before the traditional Harvest Festival celebrations which occur in September around the autumn equinox (which this year fell on Sunday 23rd September).

In my dad’s archives from October forty years ago, he recounts childhood memories of the Harvest Festival mass in his local moorland church in Lealholm. He describes how brightly the church was lit, how every surface was laden with locally-grown produce and that it was jam-packed with worshippers who’d gathered to give thanks for that year’s harvest and to pray for the next one.

Not only was there produce, but also examples of local craftsmanship, especially corn dollies, which for obvious reasons are particularly associated with the harvest. He recalls that one skilled parishioner had made a beautiful replica church and filled it with small fruits and nuts, and it sat in pride of place on the altar.

Reading this made me want to find out more about corn dollies, as I only had vague knowledge that they were somehow linked to paganism and the harvest, but that was about it. I didn’t really know why people went to such effort to make these unusual objects.

I discovered that there is evidence of corn dollies, in various forms, dating back many thousands of years in lands where cereals were commonly grown. Wheat was one of the first cereals to be domestically cultivated, proven by archaeological evidence from Ancient Egypt and the Near East.

The ancient belief was that the gods oversaw the yearly cycles of food production, and it was the people’s duty to keep them happy to ensure a good harvest. A bad harvest meant you had done something to upset them.

Especially revered was the Corn Spirit, as she was so fundamental in the protecting health and well-being of the local population by providing such an important foodstuff. The belief was that as the crop was being harvested, the Corn Spirit would retreat as the reapers approached, until she was forced into the last few ears of corn still standing. Instead of being harvested for food, these would be turned into a corn dolly into which the Corn Spirit could leap, and then live safely within the worshipper’s home until the following spring when the fields would be planted again.

By giving the spirit a warm home over the winter, it was believed that she would look favourably on her protectors, and provide a healthy harvest the following year. Come spring, the corn dolly would be broken up over the field, liberating the spirit, who would then look after the newly-planted crop until the next harvest.

Corn is a generic term for a cereal crop, and includes wheat, oats, rye and barley, and ‘dolly’ stems form the ancient Greek word ‘eidolon’, meaning ‘idol’ or ‘spirit’. As most corn dollies were by tradition destroyed, not many ancient ones survive although there are a few remaining in museums, such as the Ryedale Folk Museum in Hutton-le-Hole, the Yorkshire Farming Museum at Murton, York Castle Museum and Temple Newsam near Leeds.

Different regions of the country would have their own special corn dolly designs, such as the Yorkshire Spiral, the Stafford Knot, the Cambridge Umbrella and the Suffolk Horseshoe. The skill with straw wasn’t confined to dollies though – hats, baskets and items of furniture were also common and useful, as were delicate little ornaments known as the Countryman’s Favour. A country lad would present his lady love with a token of his affection in the form of a plaited straw buttonhole, which she would then wear over her heart.

Creating objects from straw is a skill that is still practiced today, and the Guild of Straw Craftsmen held its annual celebration, Stawfest2018, in August at Bishop Burton College in East Yorkshire (source: strawcraftsmen.co.uk).

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

Column 12, November 2018: What a load of Crapper

My dad, the former bobby and Heartbeat writer Peter Walker, was an expert in many things, including Yorkshire dialect, and dialect words often crop up in the archives that I am looking back upon for inspiration for these columns.

In an article from November 1978 he talks about the curious Yorkshire saying that describes something as a ‘bramah’. It is one of those words that I haven’t come across, and so I take great joy in the process of discovering what it’s all about.

The word was used to describe something that is of excellent quality, or rather unusual. For example, you might stay, “Eee, it’s a right bramah that one.” I can’t say that I have heard the phrase used, and wonder if it is still said. Perhaps someone reading this can enlighten me.

The origin of the word is likely to have come from a South Yorkshire man by the name of Joseph Bramah who was born a farmer’s lad near Barnsley in 1748. He grew up to be an exceptional inventor and engineer, most famous for his locks, the first one of which was patented in 1784.

Bramah was noted for his close attention to detail, and understood how important precision was in engineering. His locks earned a reputation for being extremely secure and high quality, and people with property and valuables worth protecting found themselves worrying less if they were secured by a Bramah lock. They crop up in works by Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw and Frederick Forsyth and according to Peter Wright, who wrote the controversial book ‘Spycatcher’, Bramah locks were used for diamond safes and were by far the most difficult to break and practically impossible to pick.

The company that Joseph Bramah founded in London in 1784 still exists, and has expanded further into the security field by producing alarm systems.

Perhaps Bramah’s most important invention was the hydraulic press which enabled the force of a few pounds on a lever to be converted into hundreds of pounds of pressure, and Bramah’s perfection of this method using a small pump plunger found various uses in industry, including book binding, paper production, printing, leather work, engineering and the electrical trades.

Bramah became a leading inventor of the industrial revolution and other ideas he patented included a fountain pen, a fire engine and a valve for a flushing toilet that meant it didn’t freeze in the winter. Many of his inventions can be seen at the Science Museum in London and one of his toilets still works at Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s residence on the Isle of Wight.

It seems that lots of people have been involved in improving the original flushing toilet. The aptly named Thomas Crapper is thought by many to have invented it, but this is not actually true, although he did help to increase its popularity. Apparently it was Sir John Harrington, the godson of Queen Elizabeth 1 who, in his work Metamorphosis of Ajax, first described a toilet with a raised cistern connected to the basin by a small pipe which released water when a valve was opened. The Queen had one installed in her palace in Richmond, yet it was a further 200 years before Alexander Cummings invented the ‘S’ pipe underneath to prevent foul odours from escaping. It wasn’t until the end of the 18th century that flushing toilets became the norm.

Incidentally, the word ‘crap’ was used for some years before Thomas Crapper happened upon the toiletting scene so, surprisingly, is not in fact related to his name. It is first recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1846, 15 years before Mr Crapper launched his bathroom-related business.

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

Column 13, December 2018: Remembering Loved Ones at Christmas 

So December is upon us and I am now officially allowed to mention the ‘C’ word – Christmas. I try to avoid getting too involved with it before December 1st as I think that if you start too soon, it somehow dilutes some of the specialness associated with this time of year.

As many of you know, we lost my dad in April 2017, and then my sister in January this year. So last Christmas was unlike anything we had experienced before. We were preparing to face our first Christmas without Dad when Tricia fell suddenly seriously ill, and so we simply didn’t have the time to think about missing him. I had known unfortunate people who had to spend Christmas in hospital, but never expected something like that to happen to us and so for this column, I’m going to describe what it was like in the hope that those of you who are able to share it with your loved ones will spare a thought for not only those who are ill or who have passed away, but also for their families, and for those who have to work over the festive period.

That whole time passed by in a blur and looking back, it feels a bit like a bad dream. We wanted to be there as much as possible for my sister in hospital, while at the same time, make Christmas as ‘normal’ as we could.

One of the things I most dread is the present shopping because there is so much of it to do. But last year, with almost daily trips to St James in Leeds and no idea how long my sister had left, the thought of having to complete that mammoth task was almost overwhelming.

Of course, sympathetic people would say, “Don’t worry about it, no-one will mind not having a present this year…” And I know they meant it too, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of my kids, my nieces and nephews and everyone else on the present list not having something from me to open on the big day. I don’t know if it’s something innately British, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say ‘To Hell with it!’.

Thankfully, my eldest sister Janet had come up with a cunning plan for her own family a few years earlier. She has four children, so she too had over the years felt the stress of multiple present buying. So, a few years ago, as the children were more grown up, they adopted a family ‘Secret Santa’ approach. Everyone’s name would be put into a hat and they each drew one person out, who would be the only one you’d have to buy for. They would then set a budget of say, £100, to spend on that person and also everyone would make a list of things they wanted to make it easier for the buyer. It meant the burden that was usually placed on Mum was lightened significantly.

So last year, I adopted that approach with my own boys and it worked pretty well. As we still have stockings, we set a small ‘stocking filler’ budget, and then the rest of the money was for larger gifts. It made it a whole lot less stressful, and cheaper, for me.

I still had the problem of everyone else, but thankfully God invented online shopping. I found a website that could more or less satisfy every person on my list, and spent three hours one evening filling my basket, ensuring I ticked off every name. I was so relieved at getting it done, and went to click ‘checkout’ when suddenly my basket appeared to be empty! I couldn’t believe it, and the air turned blue for a few minutes as I tried to retrieve my shopping. But to no avail, and I had to start all over again! It was the last thing I needed, but I took a deep breath, grabbed a glass of wine, and began again from scratch. I think it was about 1am when I finally managed to check out successfully, exhausted yet grateful that at least it was one Christmas chore done.

Christmas Day itself was quite unusual, with a stark juxtaposition between morning and afternoon. A few of us went to see Tricia in Leeds in the morning, while those back at the ranch prepared the table for Christmas lunch. In hospital, we wouldn’t have known it was Christmas Day apart from a few of the members of staff wearing festive hats. Tricia was also looking increasingly ill, but nevertheless remained characteristically upbeat, and was delighted with the presents we’d bought for her to unwrap. We smiled through it all even though it was obvious that the inevitable wasn’t far away. It is a bizarre thing to experience, celebrating the day while beating down your true feelings at knowing it is the last Christmas you’ll share with someone.

I don’t know if Tricia felt the same, but I never once saw or heard her acknowledge that she was dying. She remained determinedly positive, and I’m yet to fathom whether this was because she wanted to protect us from the reality of what was happening, or whether she was protecting herself. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

We arrived home about 3pm, which is when our ‘normal’ Christmas Day began. The turkey had been in the Aga on a low heat since the night before, and Mum and I had prepared all the vegetables and trimmings the previous day, so they just needed finishing off. I was very pleased with myself for having timed it all perfectly to be served at 4pm.

Or so I thought.

Taking the turkey out, I was faced with every Christmas cook’s worst nightmare. The turkey wasn’t ready! The next moment was like something out of Dad’s Army when Corporal Jones shouts “Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring!”. Of course, we all panicked. Mum and my three children came dashing like the cavalry into the kitchen. And that’s the moment when I actually lost the plot. I bellowed for all of them to get out, followed by, “NOT YOU!” to our poor family friend Ian who halted, petrified, mid-flee.

Once Ian had helped me calm down, I put the turkey back in and it was finally ready another hour later. Although the rest of the food was overcooked, it was just about edible. But to be honest we didn’t care, because we knew all too well that there were more important things to worry about that year.

This year, disasters permitting, I’m hoping for a less eventful festive season and despite there being two empty chairs at the table, we will enjoy the company of the loved ones still here and raise a glass to those we have lost.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug




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