The Christmas Robin 2017
Those of you who like to read this annual epistle (We definitely know of two and there may even be as many as four) may have been wondering where it had got to this year. Your scribe was firmly resolved to have it ready as soon as the carol service was over but then we decided to pay a pre-Christmas visit to Will and family in the Netherlands. ‘Sunny Spain’ is a popular cliché and like most clichés it has a lot of truth. Some of these December mornings we would need to scrape the ice off the car if we were still on the commuter treadmill, but the days are bright and clear and flowers bloom along the terrace wall..
Richard, who lives in the USA ‘400 miles north of everywhere’ as Michigan author Lilian Jackson Braun used to put it, thinks we Europeans make far too much fuss about mildly cold weather, so it was something a surprise when he met us at Minneapolis Airport last December and said: ‘Get your jackets on. It’s cold outside.’
‘Minus twenty-five Celsius.’
This was the start of our Christmas in New Hope (a name with special resonance) with Richard, Lindsey, Joseph, Claire and Riley the Miniature Schnauzer. (You can read more about all of them on the ‘New Children’s Story’ page). Your scribe enjoyed some real ale (Minnesota is thronged with micro breweries) and as we peered into the interior of Lindsey’s dad’s high-tech ice-fishing trailer in the snowy woods above Duluth, we kept our fingers firmly crossed in the hope that he wouldn’t suddenly offer us a couple of nights of angling through a hole in the ice.
The snow and ice (so much harder for a runner to fall on) didn’t stop Richard setting out on his goal of running 1,000 miles in 2017, a target he achieved in the Fall with months to spare. Having introduced a modern warehouse management system in the local outlet of his company he is now busy doing the same for the seven other distribution centres throughout the USA.
Whenever we visit Richard it is always a great pleasure to spend time with Steve and Millie Clough. Steve is John’s second cousin once removed. His grandfather, John’s great-grandmother’s brother, emigrated from Lancashire over a hundred years ago. John and Steve first met on Ancestry.com and have been fossicking together along the byways of family history ever since, though these days it’s Millie who does most of the fossicking. By an almost incredible coincidence Steve and Millie live in Minnesota, twenty minutes’ drive from Richard, and the two branches of the family have become firm friends.
In April, Steve and Millie spent three weeks with us here in Europe. We watched the Good Friday procession in Antequera and visited two of the great unmissables of Spain, the Mesquita of Cordoba (a Christian cathedral inside a mosque) and the Alhambra palace of Granada. Thence, via Liverpool’s historic Victoria Dock, to the border country between England and Wales where we took the steam train through the mountains from Llangollen to Corwen, home of Joseph and Claire’s famous 15th Century ancestor Owain Glyndwr.
Steve had an unfulfilled ambition to cross Thomas Telford’s great Pontcysyllte aqueduct on a narrow boat, so our second week was spent on the Llangollen and Shropshire Union canals crossing and re-crossing the border and thus managing no less than three visits to our favourite gastro pub. Finally to Wigan to experience the mighty steam engine of the Trencherfield Mill where our ancestor Richard Clough was engineer in the 1860s and married the boss’s daughter. And in the pub adjacent to our hotel we met more than thirty of our Wigan relatives most of whom John had not met in fifty years and Steve and Millie were meeting for the first time.
Back in December Lindsey had asked John to do some work on her family tree so he started on her main paternal line. She had a vague idea that the USA Boyntons originated from Ireland but in fact they descend from John Boynton, born in 1614 at Wintringham, England, who was one of the patriarchs of the Rowley, Massachusetts, community. Having established that the Boyntons are one of the ‘Colonial Families of the USA’ meant that John had a huge volume of genealogical material to sift through and he muttered to Lindsey ‘I hope you’re going to make an honest man of my son after all this’.
In September we were back in Minnesota for Richard and Lindsey’s open-air wedding at Bunker Hills Park. Claire was an elegant Flower Lady and Joseph an assured Best Man (Though if you look closely at the picture you’ll notice how anxiously he’s clutching that ring). The catering was by Chet and Paul, Richard’s fellow members of Smoke ‘n’ Swine and the booze boat was full to the gunnels. Many of the guests took advantage of the park’s camping facilities, including the younger Taylors in their newly-acquired vintage trailer tent but, Val (Grandma Walton, she don’t do tents no more) wisely volunteered us for dog-sitting back at the ranch.
Our old mate Tony McCaffry always spices his annual epistle with wise words about the state of the world. Having no wisdom to offer, your current scribe will simply quote a favourite carol:
O hush your noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.
Happy Christmas, God bless from el Cortijo del Rector. You are in our prayers and on Christmas Day, as always, we shall raise our glasses to absent friends.