Memories and May Blossom

My father would be breaking into song. He did that often. On a fine day, well, ‘Grab your coat and get your hat/ Leave your worry on the doorstep/Just direct your feet/To the sunny side of the street.’

He enjoyed Flanagan and Allen and would try to echo the gravelly harmonies of Allen (or was it Flanagan ) – ‘Any umbrellas any umbrellas to mend today?/He’ll patch up your troubles/Then go on his way singing ..’

 I wonder now whether this was his way of coping with ‘the blues’ but he loved the songs from the musicals and films of his day. This week, especially, the song would have to be ‘The bells are ringing, for me and my gal.’ The lyric would apply equally to any bridegroom of any class.

Sometimes, as a teenager, I was embarrassed at my dad’s tunefulness. No doubt that’s normal but I hope he understood. My family is frequently embarrassed by me and I understand.

With the Royal wedding and the riot of May blossom, flowering early near me, my father comes to mind very vividly.

 Why the May blossom? The Spring before he died he and I went collecting the flowers to make into wine, according to a country recipe. We brewed it but my father never lived to drink it. My grandmother, a farmer’s daughter, would not have May flowers in the house. They were bad luck she said. I’m sure there was no causal connection here but mention it only in case anyone is tempted to make such a link.

There are so many family memories of this time, 33 years ago, which is why, as this blog is very much about memories, I mention it.

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5 Responses to Memories and May Blossom

  1. churchmouse says:

    Hullo, Llew — are these the little pink flowers that blossom only in May (on generally old and large trees)? If so, three have been cut down in our neighbourhood over the past 10 years (including one which must have been 100 years old). We really miss them because there aren’t any left. I would love to buy one, only our garden just isn’t large enough for a tree that size. It’s a shame no one plants these any more. You’re fortunate to have them near you!

    My mother also used to sing songs from hit musicals, including films. I, too, found it embarrassing. Now I miss it — no one sings anything now. Sad, really. Few people play a musical instrument, yet I remember that my mother and father both studied music at home as a matter of course. My father gave up early on the violin, but everyone on my mother’s side (except for her mum) played the piano, quite well, actually. My grandparents’ house was full of sheet music from the 1940s and songbooks which included melodies from the 19th century which everyone knew into the mid-20th century. All lost to the four winds these days, never to be recovered.

    • lleweton says:

      Churchmouse: I think these pink blossoms must be a variant of May (hawthorn) flowers. They are usually white but sometimes are pink. There are three examples, in luxurious bloom, in my road at the moment. The verges and hedges here are full of the white blossom at the moment – quite lovely, and I look forward to the elderflowers which come next, although everything has bloomed very early.

      The old songs and sheet music: over the years I have gathered many tattered copies from relations and friends. I rarely play the piano, having ‘dropped out’ in my youth, but I keep our piano in tune for my elder daughter and her family, and, who knows, perhaps, in the future, my younger daughter and her family. I recently mentioned an old friend who had died (not the old man whose widow carried the sprig of rosemary). This friend was a composer of semi-professional musical comedies. The songs of the 1914-18 war, and the musicals of the 20s were part of the fabric of his being. Whenever he stayed with us he would scour the charity shops for old sheet music.

      My elder daughter, who attended his funeral in the Channel Islands, said there were piles of it in his house still. I remember him playing on our piano and singing the hymn ‘O love that never lets me go’: a lovely melody, Victorian, but casting forward to the first quarter of the 20th century when, as your comment reflects, home-made music and the ballads and love songs of the era were an everyday thing.

      • churchmouse says:

        Thanks, Llew, for the information on the May blossoms. I know the shrub to which you refer. Yes, I saw several today. I didn’t know one could make wine from them. Apparently, most people around here are also unaware, as the shrubs — as you point out — are unpicked.

        What I was thinking of was what my former neighbour (who died a few years ago) referred to as the ‘May tree’ (her words — she was close to 90 at the time). I must do more research into it. I did see a young one today in a nearby village whilst running errands.

        Thank you for the memories about music at home — how wonderful! Perhaps with the advent of television, these pleasures went by the wayside.

  2. churchmouse says:

    Hallo, again, Llew — this is what I was originally thinking of — Crataegus ‘Pauls Scarlet’ Hawthorn (picture at the link):

    http://www.ashridgetrees.co.uk/Hawthorn-Trees-Crataegus-Pauls-Scarlet

    They say it is a small tree — perhaps they have a particular variety of it — but I remember them to be very tall with a wide trunk circumference, way too large for a small garden.

  3. lleweton says:

    Hallo Churchmouse: yes that is the tree which I think of as a pink May tree. The white version is more frequently seen. Grown in isolation it can get quite big. It is the white version which worried my grandma so much. I have read that the word ‘haw’ derives from the Old English ‘haga’ which means ‘hedge’. Hawthorn is very frequently the basis of hedges everywhere to this day, some of them very old, many examples of which are near me. These hedges, of course, are pruned annually, and so remain as hedges, not trees. Perhaps the superstition (?) about May blossom is regional. This is completely speculative. My grandma came from generations of Essex people. I’ve read that the scent of May blossom echoed the smell overhanging the City of London during the great plague. (I think it’s a lovely scent though.)Assuming prevailing winds are westerly at some times of the year, Essex might have caught the smell first. On the other hand, a glance at the Internet shows different traditions about May blossom. I took my recipe for May blossom wine from a book published a generation ago by the ‘Farmer’s Weekly’.

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