Raising a toast to Dad

(This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 27th July, & the Gazette & Herald on 25th July 2018).

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Next week marks the most important day of the year which, as all who read this newspaper know, is August 1st, or Yorkshire Day.

According to my Dad’s column from 29 July 1978, the day was established to mark the demise in 1974 of the three Yorkshire Ridings when county boundaries were rearranged and Cleveland and Humberside were established. It was originally more commonly known as Minden Day, a commemoration of the 1759 Battle of Minden in which the soldiers were said to have plucked roses from the hedgerows on their way into battle. So on Minden Day, soldiers place red roses in their ceremonial headwear as a tribute to their predecessors and Yorkshire soldiers use white roses instead to represent their county.

My dad loved his food and one of the things he most looked forward to on Yorkshire Day was the traditional meal with Yorkshire puddings eaten in the classic way, as a starter with gravy, followed by roast beef and vegetables. He would particularly enjoy it if it was accompanied by a glass of good red wine. On our recent holiday to France, we stayed near Bordeaux, and as I drove past field upon field of vines, I couldn’t help but think of my dad, and recall a special family holiday we had to the same area eleven years ago in 2007.

We’d gone to celebrate my parents’ 70th birthdays, but also because we’d had a difficult year. Dad had been diagnosed with prostate cancer a few months earlier and his diagnosis had been very serious. But thankfully he responded remarkably well to the treatment and was in relatively good health, even through we still had no idea what the future might hold. So my mum decided that a special family holiday was in order and found a splendid manor house between Bordeaux and Perigueux in south-west France that could accommodate all 16 of us.

It was a truly memorable holiday, and Dad was in his element, enjoying the local food and wine to the full. He found himself a special little corner in the garden where he could write up column notes while enjoying a glass of something lovely.

As we were so close to some famous wine-producing domaines, he and my mum spent one day visiting a chateau near St Emilion. Although one might imagine chateaus being ancient castles with turrets and towers (of which France has many), the word also refers simply to an estate upon which wine is produced and sold.

I managed to find the column he wrote in 2007 following that holiday, and it’s interesting to read back on it now, especially following last week’s column in which I wrote about how much better the French road network is compared to ours. Dad apparently felt the same way. “I must say that the French roads, whether urban, rural or motorways, are splendid,” he wrote.

During my holiday this year, I was also determined to visit a chateau and sample a local vintage so the boys and I set out one day along a long straight local road which was lined with vineyards.

We pulled into Chateau Haute-Goujon, a smart, modern-looking place, and were very fortunate to be shown around by the owner himself, Monsieur Vincent Garde, whose family have produced red wine there since the early 20th century. In excellent English, he explained the process, taking us through the vinification room, with huge stainless steel vats where the grape juice is fermented and turned into wine, then to a room full of hand-made oak barrels, where the wine is aged, to a vast cellar-like room full of resting bottles, and then finally to the labelling facility. The labels are only put on last minute to deter thieves. If the wine is unmarked, they will have no idea what they are stealing, explained Mr Garde.

Of course, I had to buy some and was pleasantly surprised to find the choices weren’t as expensive as I’d imagined, with prices starting at £10 and the most expensive being around £50. I bought some at the average price, and then a couple of a more expensive one. It’s just a shame Dad isn’t here to enjoy it with me, but I will raise a toast to him when I open it.

For more information visit chateauhautegoujon.com.

Visit my blog at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

Watch out, the sheriffs are coming

Alan Rickman as the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham
The new High Sheriff of North Yorkshire, Christopher Legard, front centre, with outgoing High Sheriff Simon Wrightson, front left.

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 6th April 2018, & the Gazette & Herald 4th April 2018.

When I sit down to write these columns, I usually have no idea what I’m going to write about until I read the column that Dad wrote in the corresponding week 40 years ago. Often, at the very point I think inspiration has left for its holidays, I see or hear something that ends up being the pivotal subject of the column.

Today, I experienced such a moment after reading Dad’s piece from 8th April 1978 in which he talked about the April weather, albino people (following on from his mention of albino blackbirds a couple of weeks before), the annual influx of migrating birds, clouds and the custom of ‘pricking the sheriffs’.

I was undecided as to what to plump for, until I opened my iPad and there on the open BBC iPlayer app was a programme called ‘The sheriffs are coming’. It was a sign.

The word sheriff immediately conjures up two images for me, a Wild West cowboy with a star-shaped badge, and the actor Alan Rickman, whose portrayal of the embodiment of evil that was the Sheriff of Nottingham in the 1995 film ‘Robin Hood, Prince Of Thieves’ was so memorable.

Today there are two distinct categories of sheriff in our country. Those featured in the BBC programme are officially High Court Enforcement Officers and are tasked with collecting money or goods in respect of a debt. They are authorised by the Lord Chancellor, but privately employed, unlike bailiffs, who are salaried civil servants. Debts below £600 can only be recovered by bailiffs, and debts over £5,000 can only be recovered by sheriffs.

The second category is now mainly a ceremonial role to represent the Crown at county level and are known as high sheriffs. City sheriffs have largely disappeared, apart from in London where there are two.

The original sheriff is possibly the oldest official role in the country, and the name derives from ‘shire reeve’, meaning the governor of a shire or county. ‘Reeve’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘reeafan’ which was a levy or seizure. We don’t know for sure when the first shire reeve appeared, but we do know that Alfred the Great (871-901) appointed men to this role. They were the king’s representatives at a local level and executed writs on his behalf. They collected rents and taxes and were responsible for keeping the peace, which also led to them assuming responsibility for prisoners. This made them very powerful and some, like the supposedly merciless Sheriff of Nottingham, abused this power.

To counter the problem, a new official, the ‘coroner’, was installed to oversee all the sheriffs (although clearly they have a very different role today!).

It is the duty of the incumbent high sheriffs to nominate successors. Formal nominations take place at the High Court in London on November 12th and is presided over by the Lord Chief Justice. This is followed by the ‘pricking of the sheriffs’ by the Sovereign in March (I bet you’ve been thinking that was a typo!).

The list of nominees is put on to a vellum (calf skin) scroll which is 15 feet long by a foot wide and, as in centuries before, the Queen chooses her high sheriffs using a silver bodkin, which is a large sewing needle, to prick a hole in the scroll over the selected nominee’s name.

There are a couple of explanations for this rather odd method of choosing. I do like my dad’s, where he explains that it dates back to the time of Elizabeth I. She was sewing in her garden when the time arose to choose her sheriffs. The scroll was brought to her, but she had no pen, so consequently used a bodkin from her sewing basket.

The second (possibly more plausible) reason I found on the high sheriffs’ official website (highsheriffs.com). Apparently not all the nominated sheriffs welcomed the role due to the high expenses they incurred, and the challenges of calculating and collecting taxes. So to stop them trying to remove their names, a hole was made in the vellum which could not be removed, nor sewn up without being noticed.

This year’s ceremony took place at Buckingham Palace on 14th March where Simon Wrightson was succeeded as High Sheriff of North Yorkshire by Chris Legard, of Scampston Hall near Malton, who will officially assume his duties this month.