Cider with Rosie: A Memoir

I really enjoy reading about that past, especially first person experiences about daily life. I’ve read plenty of history books but I want to know what life was like for the average person. These types of books are not easy to find because the average person was most likely a farmer, didn’t have time to write and if they did there was not much to write about. If perchance they did write something then it is not always easy to find unless it is a best seller such as this book.

I found this book because it was mentioned in the forward of another book about daily life of the same era in Japan. I’ve posted my notes and highlights about Memories of Silk and Straw here.

I’m fascinated about how quickly time passes and how everything changes. Here we are in the year 2024 and very few people will know much about the past which is a shame. We’re always caught up in the present and looking into the future. With all the momentous change going on in the world I find myself looking favorably on the past and am starting to fear the future. I wish for a slower pace of life such as described in this book even at the risk of boredom. I feel as though we as a species are just bumbling along where nobody is at the wheel. Yes, we bumbled along in the past but we’re quite primitive as a species and couldn’t cause as much damage as we can now. Yes, there were World Wars, but now we’ve got nuclear bombs that can erase entire cities and enough of them to erase nations. Our planet is heating up with the effects becoming more apparent each year. And yet, we cannot stop the financial machines we’ve created, even if it means sacrificing millions of lives. I’m shocked at how many of my own countrymen refuse to believe in science and it seems as even though with all our schools and technology, mankind as a whole is not improving but declining as a species.

Everyday I read three newspapers and am saddened by so much idiocy. Reading books like these take me to a time where although life was tough, it was simple and there is something beautiful in this simplicity that I long for.

That was the day we came to the village, in the summer of the last year of the First World War.

In our modern times most people won’t even know about World War I.

He was the war, and the war was up there; I wanted to ask, ‘How’s the war in that wood?’ But he never told us. He sat drinking his tea, gulping and gasping, the fire drawing the damp out of his clothes as if ghosts were rising from him. When he caught our eyes he smiled from his beard. And when brother Jack shot at him with a spoon, saying ‘I’m a sodger,’ he replied softly, ‘Aye, and you’d make a better one than me, son, any day.’

This must have been a deserter with PTSD. The book mentions he had medals and so I assume he just couldn’t do the war anymore and left. Eventually he was hauled away by the authorities.

I find myself reading the obituaries more and more. I’ve come to the realization that we’re here just a short while, have some experiences, maybe do some things that are admirable to others or at least worthy of mentioning and then we disappear and are forgotten. I realize this will happen to me. I think about a soul being thrown into a body in a certain time and under different circumstances. I wonder what this persons story is. Where was he born, did he have a good childhood, the fear he must have had knowing he was going to war and the trauma he must have experienced. Now, he is just a minor character in a memoir that nobody will ever identify and without this mention it might as well be as he never existed at all. We will all be forgotten, it will just take more time for some than for others.

But what was peace anyway? Food tasted the same, pump water was as cold, the house neither fell nor grew larger. Winter came in with a dark, hungry sadness, and the village filled up with unknown men who stood around in their braces and khaki pants, smoking short pipes, scratching their arms, and gazing in silence at the gardens.

There were the Old Men too, who lived in the walls, in floors, and down the lavatory; who watched and judged us and were pitilessly spiteful, and were obviously gods gone mouldy.

Superstition, or perhaps remnant energy left over from those that came before. I believe there is much more to this universe than we can experience with our five senses. In an ancient village that had been inhabited since the Romans I think those energies, spirits, whatever you want to call them would have accumulated and may linger for some time. Love, death, joy, devastation, fear, anger, all of these emotions must leave some sort of trace.

‘Jones’s goat!’ – our Dorothy whispered; two words that were almost worship. For this was not just a straying animal but a beast of ancient dream, the moonlight-walker of the village roads, half captive, half rutting king. He was huge and hairy as a Shetland horse and all men were afraid of him; Squire Jones in fact kept him chained to a spike driven five feet into the ground. Yet when nights were bright with moon or summer neither spike nor chains could hold him.

The description was of extreme fear during the night upon hearing metal being drug across the ground. It makes us think a phantom was nearing and then we break into a smile at the simplicity of these people upon learning it was just a goat. Yet, we can identify with them as for most of human history, before electric lighting invented, the night was full of terrors, superstition and danger. This primal fear must reside somewhere in our subconscious having been part of human history ever since man appeared. In our modern times I don’t think any of us can really understand how dark the world became after sunset and the danger it brought with it. I think about how the Milky Way would appear for all each night and that being a city person, I’d never seen the Milky Way until a few years ago. It was incredible indeed. But as for the dark, all I need to do is flick a switch or press a button and night is illuminated chasing any spirits or moving things away.

There was one dame teacher, and perhaps a young girl assistant. Every child in the valley crowding there, remained till he was fourteen years old, then was presented to the working field or factory with nothing in his head more burdensome than a few mnemonics, a jumbled list of wars, and a dreamy image of the world’s geography. It seemed enough to get by with, in any case; and was one up on our poor old grandparents.

In those days the teachers tried to jam a bit of knowledge into young, restless minds and then they were off to work.

My first days in the Big Room were spent in regret for the young teacher I’d left in the Infants, for her braided breasts and unbuttoning hands and her voice of sleepy love. Quite clearly the Big Room boasted no such comforts; Miss B, the Head Teacher, to whom I was now delivered, being about as physically soothing as a rake.

I think that the image of a stern teacher is a shared experience. For many Catholics it was the nuns who would hit your knuckles with a ruler. When I was in elementary the nuns were mostly gone except for the principle and my kindergarden teacher. My second grade teacher was not a nun but she is the image I have of the angry teacher. She spent more than an ample amount of time yelling at us and was an absolute witch.

Many a lone coffin was followed to its grave by a straggle of long-faced children, pinched, solemn, raggedly dressed, all strangers to the astonished bereaved.

Again, we’re born, we have some experiences, do some activities and then die. It is nice to be alive but I think from a high perspective, it is quite insignificant in this grand universe which we can barely comprehend. We put so much importance on trivial matters. Who will win the “big game?” We focus so much on acquiring shiny new toys. Even on the momentous events such as war, well, wars come and go. The history of mankind is war followed by a time of peace followed by another war. They come and go like the tide and woe to those that live when the tide of war is in. In the end, do the things that happen on this “pale blue dot” even really matter? I would argue the energy created by our thoughts, emotions and experiences do but in a way we cannot yet comprehend.

We focus on the wrong things in daily life. Religion is an attempt to understand, a grasping at that which is outside our understanding. Apart from mystical experiences I’d say that almost all of religion is man-made superstition, historical events that have become exaggerated and stale ritual.

The state of our fire became as important to us as it must have been to a primitive tribe. When it sulked and sank we were filled with dismay; when it blazed all was well with the world; but if – God save us – it went out altogether, then we were clutched by primeval chills. Then it seemed that the very sun had died, that winter had come forever, that the wolves of the wilderness were gathering near, and that there was no more hope to look for.…

Again, the primal fear of the cold and dark, and for good reason! I was curious at how people dealt with the winter prior to central heating. Yes, I understand fire would be the major part of it but how to keep it going, how to deal with the smoke, do you sleep next to it, who keeps watch that it doesn’t go out during the night? I want the details. I do get a sense of former times when in Japan as my mother-in-laws house does not have central heating. The room is freezing and we rely on heavy futon and comforters to keep us warm. It is unfortunate when you have to get up in the middle of the night to pee or God forbid poop. And that is in regards to an indoor toilet. Before plumbing you’d have to go outside, perhaps in the rain or snow. It is these harsh realities of the past that we’ve forgotten with our modern conveniences.

The wine in the cups was still and golden, transparent as a pale spring morning. It smelt of ripe grass in some far-away field and its taste was as delicate as air. It seemed so innocent, we would swig away happily and even the youngest guzzled it down. Then a curious rocking would seize the head; tides rose from our feet like a fever, the kitchen walls began to shudder and shift, and we all fell in love with each other.

Fermented cider. The first time drinking alcohol is certainly an interesting experience.

They occurred at a time when the village was the world and its happenings all I knew. The village in fact was like a deep-running cave still linked to its antic past, a cave whose shadows were cluttered by spirits and by laws still vaguely ancestral. This cave that we inhabited looked backwards through chambers that led to our ghostly beginnings; and had not, as yet, been tidied up, or scrubbed clean by electric light, or suburbanized by a Victorian church, or papered by cinema screens. It was something we just had time to inherit, to inherit and dimly know – the blood and beliefs of generations who had been in this valley since the Stone Age. That continuous contact has at last been broken, the deeper caves sealed off for ever. But arriving, as I did, at the end of that age, I caught whiffs of something old as the glaciers. There were ghosts in the stones, in the trees, and the walls, and each field and hill had several. The elder people knew about these things and would refer to them in personal terms, and there were certain landmarks about the valley – tree-clumps, corners in woods – that bore separate, antique, half-muttered names that were certainly older than Christian. The women in their talk still used these names which are not used now any more. There was also a frank and unfearful attitude to death, and an acceptance of violence as a kind of ritual which no one accused or pardoned.

This is one of my favorite passages. Generation after generation passes and their lives, beliefs, experiences and even language forgotten. I love the metaphor, “the deeper caves sealed off forever.” Those ancients still influence the present although weakly, through DNA, language structures, and perhaps even old beliefs. They are there but in those days one could not access them. It is only through modern technology that we can revive and learn something about our ancient ancestors.

The wet winter days seemed at times unending, and quite often they led to self-slaughter. Girls jumped down wells, young men cut their veins, spinsters locked themselves up and starved. There was something spendthrift about such gestures, a scorn of life and complaining, and those who took to them were never censured, but were spoken about in a special voice as though their actions raised them above the living and defeated the misery of the world. Even so such outbursts were often contagious and could lead to waves of throat-cutting; indeed, during one particularly gloomy season even the coroner did himself in.

The winter must have been something to absolutely dread. Again, it is a harsh aspect of life that has been forgotten in an age with electricity, with the warmth, light and entertainment it brings in even the most difficult environments.

I was haunted by their end as by no other, and by the kind, killing Authority that arranged it. Divided, their life went out of them, so they ceased as by mutual agreement. Their cottage stood empty on the edge of the common, its front door locked and soundless. Its stones grew rapidly cold and repellent with its life so suddenly withdrawn. In a year it fell down, first the roof, then the walls, and lay scattered in a tangle of briars. Its decay was so violent and overwhelming, it was as though the old couple had wrecked it themselves. Soon all that remained of Joe and Hannah Brown, and of their long close life together, were some grass-grown stumps, a garden gone wild, some rusty pots, and a dog-rose.

This passage is about a couple that grew old, couldn’t take care of themselves and were forced into a “workhouse,” a place to go for people who could no longer support themselves for various reasons. This couple would have been a part of the community for perhaps fifty years and then they just disappear. It makes me think about my Japanese father-in-law who lived his entire life in the same countryside home. He was born, grew up, was known to the community and participated in its governance and now is gone. Again, we’re here on Earth a short time and soon we too will be gone. Best not to attach too much importance to ourselves or what we do, it is all very ephemeral. Life is fleeting.

She was also convinced that if you praised a firm’s goods they would shower you with free samples and money. She was once paid five shillings for such a tribute which she had addressed to a skin-food firm. From then on she bombarded the market with letters, dashing off several each week. Ecstatically phrased and boasting miraculous cures, they elegantly hinted at new dawns opened up because of, or salvations due only to: headache-powders, limejuice-bottlers, corset-makers, beef-extractors, sausage-stuffers, bust-improvers, eyelash-growers, soap-boilers, love-mongerers, statesmen, corn-plasterers, and Kings.

This made me smile as it is akin to our modern day “influencers.” What’s old becomes new again in cycle. Much of what we think of as “new” or “innovative” is just an old practice repackaged for current times.

Our Mother was a buffoon, extravagant and romantic, and was never wholly taken seriously. Yet within her she nourished a delicacy of taste, a sensibility, a brightness of spirit, which though continuously bludgeoned by the cruelties of her luck remained uncrushed and unembittered to the end. Wherever she got it from, God knows – or how she managed to preserve it. But she loved this world and saw it fresh with hopes that never clouded. She was an artist, a light-giver, and an original, and she never for a moment knew it.

She sounds like a wonderful lady.

My Mother however, while resigned to my loss, was determined I should enter heaven. She remembered those tiny anonymous graves tucked away under the churchyard laurels, where quick-dying infants – behind the vicar’s back – were stowed secretly among the jam-jars. She said the bones of her son should rest in God’s own ground and not rot with those pitiful heathens. So she summoned the curate, who came and called out my Adam, baptized me from a teacup, admitted me to the Church, and gave me three names to die with.

I have recently learned how much infant death and indeed, infanticide was part of human history. Thinking about this as someone who believes in an immortal soul, I’m not sure if these children were fortunate or unfortunate. Life for most are a mix of joy and pain. Is life here a reward or a punishment? Given the choice once I’m on the other side I’m not sure I’d choose to live again. I suppose it just depends on what is on the other side.

It is not crime that has increased, but its definition. The modern city, for youth, is a police-trap.

Agree. Kids are wired to experiment, to get into trouble. The book spoke about things that happened in the countryside that were overlooked but would have warranted jail in the cities.

Never to be forgotten, that first long secret drink of golden fire, juice of those valleys and of that time, wine of wild orchards, of russet summer, of plump red apples, and Rosie’s burning cheeks. Never to be forgotten, or ever tasted again.…

Drinking fermented cider and having sex for the first time under a cart of hay. Human instinct is not so easily oppressed.

THE LAST DAYS of my childhood were also the last days of the village. I belonged to that generation which saw, by chance, the end of a thousand years’ life. The change came late to our Cotswold valley, didn’t really show itself till the late 1920s; I was twelve by then, but during that handful of years I witnessed the whole thing happen.

Technological advancement is speeding up. Humans lived life in pretty much the same way as their ancestors did for thousands of years up until the early 1900s. Now the pace of change has become scary and we’re navigating a ferocious period of change. The automobile and electricity changed life forever. I’m absolutely terrified of what AI is going to change. I might prefer to move to the countryside and do my best to live life pre-1900s.

The girls were to marry; the Squire was dead; buses ran and the towns were nearer. We began to shrug off the valley and look more to the world, where pleasures were more anonymous and tasty.

Part II: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

Part III: A Moment of War

Categorized as Books

By Mateo de Colón

Global Citizen! こんにちは!僕の名前はマットです. Es decir soy Mateo. Aussi, je m'appelle Mathieu. Likes: Languages, Cultures, Computers, History, being Alive! \(^.^)/