Lark Rise to Candleford

I’ve recently been enjoying first person accounts of life in simple villages in England and Japan which I’ve posted about a few entries previous to this one. This was a pretty long read and I learned there is actually a TV series based on the book from the BBC.


I don’t have much of an intro for this book so will get right to my highlights as well as my comments.

Though food was rough and teeth were neglected, indigestion was unknown, while nervous troubles, there as elsewhere, had yet to be invented.

“Nervous troubles,” aka anxiety. Life was simpler and slower pre industrial times. Our modern life runs at a very fast pace and here in the USA it seems we’re under constant bombardment from: sales pitches, phone notifications, social media, LinkedIn, scams, and it seems there is always someone trying to separate us from our money. Not only that but now we’ve got climate change worries, political catastrophes (Trump), war and now AI which is going to change our lives much faster than at anytime in the past.

It is no wonder so many people have “nervous troubles,” these days. Reading a book like this makes me long for a simpler time but I’m cognizant that those simple times on a farm would also be both boring and backbreaking at the same time.

They would work, eat, sleep and go to church on Sunday. That’s it. Not much to think about, the social order is set, and religion told us how to think.

‘Poverty’s no disgrace, but ’tis a great inconvenience’ was a common saying among the Lark Rise people.

This quote makes me think of another quote from The Fiddler on the Roof. “It’s no shame to be poor, but it’s no great honor either.”

She said one of her uncles had written a book and she thought Edmund might turn out to be clever, like him. But when they told their mother what she had said she tossed her head and said she had never heard about any book, and what if he had, wasting his time. It was not as if he was like Shakespeare or Miss Braddon or anybody like that. And she hoped Edmund would not turn out to be clever. Brains were no good to a working man; they only made him discontented and saucy and lose his jobs. She’d seen it happen again and again.

Brains were “no good for a working man.” Here we are in 2024 where with AI brains might not be enough for a working man. Scary times and we’re not ready.

Little Emma had a sweet voice and she was supposed to go there for singing lessons; but she had learned other things, too, including old-world manners and to write a beautiful antique hand with delicate, open-looped pointed letters and long ‘s’s’, such as her instructress and other young ladies had been taught in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

and to Laura the old people were the most interesting of all, for they told her about the old times and could sing old songs and remember old customs, although they could never remember enough to satisfy her. She sometimes wished she could make the earth and stones speak and tell her about all the dead people who had trodden upon them.

I love this entry as it aligns with my passion. I read books like this so I can understand the old times and customs. So much has been lost to time. If we could travel back I’m sure we’d learn much that has been forgotten. We are so used to our modern conveniences and with them we’ve lost touch with the past. Things that immediately come to mind are the following.

What did villagers think looking up at the Milky Way? Many of us in modern times have never seen it.

Most never left their villages and those villages were remote out in the countryside. How many generations passed where not much happened? How were those villages settled and grown over the centuries? I imagine village people wouldn’t know except for scraps of oral history.

I’d love to see the creation of a village from ancient times through the eyes of a God. I’d follow the founders from their origins, observe their descendants, and I imagine see very little change over the centuries until a great leap occurred such as the building of ships able to cross the ocean, the introduction of gunpowder, the arrival of tobacco, and eventually the industrial revolution all within the span of an hour.

There were no bought pleasures, and, if there had been, there was no money to pay for them; but there were the sights, sounds and scents of the different seasons: spring with its fields of young wheat-blades bending in the wind as the cloud-shadows swept over them; summer with its ripening grain and its flowers and fruit and its thunderstorms, and how the thunder growled and rattled over that flat land and what boiling, sizzling downpours it brought! With August came the harvest and the fields settled down to the long winter rest, when the snow was often piled high and frozen, so that the buried hedges could be walked over, and strange birds came for crumbs to the cottage doors and hares in search of food left their spoor round the pigsties.

Seasons: the consistent makers of time with birth, life, slow decay and death. It is the story of ourselves in the span of a year around the sun. We experience the same with our lives only more slowly.

‘mad as a bull’; or any one might be ‘poor as a rat’, ‘sick as a dog’, ‘hoarse as a crow’, ‘as ugly as sin’,

These have persisted as I remember my own mother saying two of these in my childhood.

When they reached home they handed the half-sovereign straight over to their wives, who gave them back a shilling for the next week’s pocket-money. That was the custom of the countryside. The men worked for the money and the women had the spending of it. The men had the best of the bargain. They earned their half-sovereign by hard toil, it is true, but in the open air, at work they liked and took an interest in, and in congenial company. The women, kept close at home, with cooking, cleaning, washing, and mending to do, plus their constant pregnancies and a tribe of children to look after, had also the worry of ways and means on an insufficient income.

This is the same system the Japanese still use. お小遣い= pocket money. The ‘Salary Man’ goes to work, gives his paycheck to his wife and receives a bit of ‘pocket money’ in return. I’ve never heard of this system being used by any of my acquaintances here in the USA.

People were poorer and had not the comforts, amusements, or knowledge we have to-day; but they were happier. Which seems to suggest that happiness depends more upon the state of mind—and body, perhaps—than upon circumstances and events.

Happiness is a state of mind indeed. It is difficult to be in the right state of mind with our fast paced modern culture full of distraction and seemingly everything vying for your attention, especially when it comes to technology.

Then the landlord, standing back to the fireplace with legs astride, would say with the authority of one in his own house, ‘It’s no good you chaps think’n you’re goin’ against the gentry. They’ve got the land and they’ve got the money, an’ they’ll keep it. Where’d you be without them to give you work an’ pay your wages, I’d like to know?’

Seems not much is changed. Our society is greatly unbalanced and the disparity of wealth only gets worse. It seems we just have a more complicated version of the same old system between rich and poor. Instead of landed gentry we have the ultra wealthy who still pretty much run the show. We’re all pawns one way or another except the ability to improve ones station in life is much better.

Now all you young chaps, take a warning by me, And do not build your nest at the top of any tree, For the green leaves they will wither and the flowers they will decay, And the beauty of that fair maid will soon pass away.

I like the last sentence best. As a young man we’re always chasing the most beautiful women. But thankfully I quickly learned that beauty is “only skin deep,” and the real beauty lies in the character of a person. I’m glad I realized this early on and my life has benefited greatly from it.

‘Home, Sweet Home’, ‘Annie Laurie’, ‘Barbara Allen’, and ‘Silver Threads Among the Gold’

A couple folk songs I’ll check out.

There was no girl over twelve or thirteen living permanently at home. Some were sent out to their first place at eleven. The way they were pushed out into the world at that tender age might have seemed heartless to a casual observer. As soon as a little girl approached school-leaving age, her mother would say, ‘About time you was earnin’ your own livin’, me gal,’ or, to a neighbour, ‘I shan’t be sorry when our young So-and-So gets her knees under somebody else’s table. Five slices for breakfast this mornin’, if you please!’ From that time onward the child was made to feel herself one too many in the overcrowded home; while her brothers, when they left school and began to bring home a few shillings weekly, were treated with a new consideration and made much of. The parents did not want the boys to leave home.

This reminds me of a video of young kids returning home for the day after working in English coal mines in the Victorian era. They were so filthy and young. My son is now a young teen and I cannot imagine sending him out of the home to work.

‘Our dear Queen,’ she was saying as they passed Twister’s turnip patch, ‘our dear, good Queen, Laura, is noted for her perfect tact. Once, and I have this on good authority, some church workers were invited to visit her at Osborne. Tea was served in a magnificent drawing-room, the Queen actually partaking of a cup with them, and this, I am told, is very unusual—a great honour, in fact; but no doubt she did it to put them at their ease. But in her confusion, one poor lady, unaccustomed to taking tea with royalty, had the misfortune to drop her slice of cake on the floor. Imagine that, Laura, a slice of cake on the Queen’s beautiful carpet; you can understand how the poor lady must have felt, can’t you dear? One of the ladies-in-waiting smiled at her discomfiture, which made her still more nervous and trembling; but our dear Queen—she has sharp eyes, God bless her!—saw at once how matters stood. She asked for a slice of cake, then purposely dropped it, and commanded the lady who had smiled to pick up both pieces at once. Which she did quickly, you may be sure, Laura, and there were no more smiles. What a lesson! What a lesson, Laura!’

What a wonderful and heartwarming story. Unlikely but it is stories like these that endear the people to their rulers. I saw a story of Queen Elizabeth being invited to a commoner’s wedding as a lark and she actually showed up. This was on Instagram so hard to say if true or not but it makes one like the Royalty. In Vietnam I heard multiple stories of Ho Chi Minh being kind from books and even co-workers. Wonderful if true but much of it most likely propaganda. However, we want to believe them.

After the jubilee nothing ever seemed quite the same. The old Rector died and the farmer, who had seemed immovable excepting by death, had to retire to make way for the heir of the landowning nobleman who intended to farm the family estates himself. He brought with him the new self-binding reaping machine and women were no longer required in the harvest field. At the hamlet several new brides took possession of houses previously occupied by elderly people and brought new ideas into the place. The last of the bustles disappeared and leg-o’-mutton sleeves were ‘all the go’. The new Rector’s wife took her Mothers’ Meeting women for a trip to London. Babies were christened new names; Wanda was one, Gwendolin another. The innkeeper’s wife got in cases of tinned salmon and Australian rabbit. The Sanitary Inspector appeared for the first time at the hamlet and shook his head over the pigsties and privies. Wages rose, prices soared, and new needs multiplied. People began to speak of ‘before the jubilee’ much as we in the nineteen-twenties spoke of ‘before the war’, either as a golden time or as one of exploded ideas, according to the age of the speaker.

The march of time where change is sometimes slow and sometimes comes in great leaps. I think most people like to think that times past were better. I know I certainly do when thinking of the 1980s. But I was also a child and most tend to think fondly of their childhood. I also remember wishing I was the dog so I wouldn’t have to go to school. Times were simpler and slower.

Beyond their garden in summer were fields of wheat and barley and oats which sighed and rustled and filled the air with sleepy pollen and earth scents. These fields were large and flat and stretched away to a distant line of trees set in the hedgerows. To the children at that time these trees marked the boundary of their world. Tall trees and smaller trees and one big bushy squat tree like a crouching animal—they knew the outline of each one by heart and looked upon them as children in more hilly districts look upon the peaks of distant, unvisited, but familiar mountains. Beyond their world, enclosed by the trees, there was, they were told, a wider world, with other hamlets and villages and towns and the sea, and, beyond that, other countries where the people spoke languages different from their own. Their father had told them so. But, until they learned to read, they had no mental picture of these, they were but ideas, unrealized; whereas, in their own little world within the tree boundary, everything appeared to them more than life-size and more richly coloured.

There it is. The world must have been a very small place for those villagers with distant lands nothing more than stories. It so happens that I’m writing this from an airport where I’m about to travel to a very different country. I’m lucky to have had international experience in my life. I know this isn’t the case still for most people as different cultures can be intimidating especially when the language is different and plane tickets are expensive. If everyone could travel and experience other cultures, perhaps there would be less war. Humanity remains very tribal even in our modern times.

Apart from politics, the hamlet people’s attitude towards those they called ‘the gentry’ was peculiar. They took a pride in their rich and powerful country-house neighbours, especially when titled. The old Earl in the next parish was spoken of as ‘our Earl’ and when the flag, flown from the tower of his mansion to show he was in residence, could be seen floating above tree-tops they would say: ‘I see our family’s at home again.’ They sometimes saw him pass through the hamlet in his carriage, an old, old man, sunk deep in cushions and half-buried in rugs, often too comatose to be aware of, or acknowledge, their curtsies. He had never spoken to them or given them anything, for they did not live in his cottages, and in the way of Christmas coals and blankets he had his own parish to attend to; but the men worked on his land, though not directly employed by him, and by some inherited instinct they felt he belonged to them.

The aristocracy seems like a father figure, the one who takes care of his people. There is no need to understand much about the world when the Earl can be depended on to keep the world out and the village stable.

We often depend on our own leaders in the same way. However, these days it is the news channels who tell people how to think. The Earl who guided the village has been replaced by 24 hour news channels and social media. People are overwhelmed by information and thus rely on these media outlets to tell them how and what to think.

‘They’re subjects of Queen Victoria, ain’t they, same as we are,’ her uncle insisted. ‘Well, then, let ’em behave as such and be thankful to have a decent Government over ’em. Nice thing they’d make of governing themselves, and they no better than a lot of drunken savages.’ ‘How’d you like it if a foreign country invaded, England . . .’ her father began. ‘I’d like to see ’em try it,’ interposed her uncle. ‘. . . invaded England and shed blood like water and burnt down your house and workshops and interfered with your religion. You’d want to get rid of ’em, I’ll bet, and get back your independence.’ ‘Well, we did conquer ’em, didn’t we? So let ’em learn who’s their masters, I say, and if they won’t toe the line, let our soldiers go over and make them.’

Speaking of Ireland. The issue continues to this day.

Never try to influence anybody, Laura. It’s a mistake. Other people’s lives are their own and they’ve got to live them, and often when we think they are doing wrong they are doing right— right for them, although it might not be right for us.

Words of wisdom from the countryside.

One of Laura’s most lasting impressions of Candleford Green was that of leaning out of her bedroom window one soft, dark summer night when the air was full of new-made-hay and elderflower scents. It could not have been late in the evening, for a few dim lights still showed on the opposite side of the green and some boy or youth, on his way home, was whistling ‘Annie Laurie’. Laura felt she could hang there for ever, drinking in the soft, scented night air.

A beautiful scene that I only experience when back home in Ohio swinging on my sister’s porch or my father’s patio. I live in California where it is always 60 degrees and sunny on the coast. I miss the seasons: the budding flowers and returning birdsong of spring, the lush green trees and threatening summer storms, the beautiful colors of fall and the silent cold with sparkling snow of winter. I think of summer nights in my childhood with hundreds of ‘lightning bugs’ knowing there was no school in the morning. Experiencing that brought pure joy that is very hard to replicate as an adult.

It sometimes seems to us that some impression of those now dead must be left upon their familiar earthly surroundings. We saw them, on such a day, in such a spot, in such an attitude, smiling—or not smiling—and the impression of the scene is so deeply engraved upon our own hearts that we feel they must have left some more enduring trace, though invisible to mortal eyes. Or perhaps it would be better to say at present invisible, for the discovery of sound waves has opened up endless possibilities.

Beautiful description. I too believe those that have gone before us leave an impression. This is not only in what they’ve created that lingers such as a structure or even descendants but rather their presence, their emotions, their lives leave an almost imperceptible mark that can only be felt in a certain state of mind.

‘Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away,’ and its daughters, too, and the tastes and ideas of each generation, together with its ideals and conventions, go rolling downstream with it like so much debris. But, because the generations overlap, the change is gradual. In the country at the time now recorded, the day of the old skilled master-craftsman, though waning, was not over.

We’re here, then we’re gone. Most spend all their energy focusing on the present moment unable to see the forest of humanity and passage of time from the present, solitary tree they are standing in front of.

she found her father peacefully sleeping on a bed of brushwood. Where he had been all those months he could not or would not say. He thought, or pretended to think, that there had been no interval of time, that he had come home as usual from the ‘Golden Lion’ the night before he was found and, finding the door locked and not liking to disturb the household, had retired to the woodshed.

I’ve heard stories like this before, where the father leaves for years only to reappear as if nothing happened. Much easier to do in the past than with the constant surveillance of modern times.

The butcher, too, received no stiff, shrouded carcasses by rail, but had to be able to recognize the points in the living animal at the local market sufficiently quickly and well to be able to guarantee the succulent joints and the old-fashioned chops and steaks would melt in the mouth. Even his scrag ends of mutton and sixpen’orth of pieces of beef which he sold to the poor were tasty and rich with juices which the refrigerator seems to have destroyed in present-day meat. However, we cannot have it all ways, and most villagers would agree that the attractions of films and wireless and dances and buses to town, plus more money in the pocket, outweigh the few poor creature comforts of their grandparents.

Another aspect of life in the past that has been forgotten. This goes along with simple things like how people walked. I saw a YouTube video where it was explained that medieval people would place their toe down first instead of the heel so as to feel the ground first and not step on anything unpleasant. We’ve forgotten much and even if the information is out there one must try hard to seek it out.

Laura noticed that when these letters were dictated there were none of the long pauses usual when she was writing a letter for one of her own old countrymen, as she sometimes did. Words came freely to the Irishman, and there were rich, warm phrases in his letters that sounded like poetry. What Englishman of his class would think of wishing his wife could live like a queen? ‘Take care of yourself’ would be the fondest expression she would find in his letters. The Irishman, too, had better manners than the Englishman. He took off his hat when he came in at the door, said ‘please’, or, rather, ‘plaze’, more frequently, and was almost effusive in his thanks for some small service. The younger men were inclined to pay compliments, but they did so in such charming words that no one could have felt offended.

The Irish do seem like a passionate people alternating between a very warm character and completely chaotic on the other end. Ying and Yang.

All this seemed surprisingly human to Laura, who had hitherto looked upon gipsies as outcasts, robbers of henroosts, stealers of children, and wheedlers of pennies from pockets even poorer than their own. Now she met them on a business footing, and they never begged from her and very seldom tried to sell her a comb or a length of lace from their baskets, but one day an old woman for whom she had written a letter offered to tell her fortune.

Due to this passage I became fascinated with gypsies and thanks to YouTube learned about their interesting history and culture. Nobody knew where they came from, not even themselves. It was recently discovered they are sons and daughters of India thanks to linguistic research and DNA testing.

So she went with her boxes and bundles and with Snowball mewing in a basket. Someone else came to live in her cottage and very soon she was forgotten, as Laura, in her turn, would be forgotten, and as all the other insignificant people would be who had sojourned for a time at Candleford Green.

I’ve written much about this as I find it fascinating. In modern times we’re so preoccupied with those that make the news. We worship the rich, famous and powerful. Yet, over time, we will all be forgotten. I wonder if technology will help mitigate this fact. We now have AI which is able analyze someone’s writings and answer as though it were that person. If we combined this with holograms then perhaps our descendants will be able to have conversations with our virtual selves. This would have seemed outlandish just a few years ago but is now within reach thanks to AI. The future is going to look very different.

It would have been pleasant to have lived all her days in comparative ease and security among the people she knew and understood. To have watched the seasons open and fade in the scenes she loved and belonged to by birth. But have we any of us a free choice of our path in life, or are we driven on by destiny or by the demon within us into a path already marked out? Who can tell?

Good question, I do not have the answer.

On the last morning of her postwoman’s round, when she came to the path between trees where she had seen the birds’ footprints on the snow, she turned and looked back upon the familiar landmarks. It was a morning of ground mist, yellow sunshine, and high rifts of blue, white-cloud-dappled sky. The leaves were still thick on the trees, but dew-spangled gossamer threads hung on the bushes and the shrill little cries of unrest of the swallows skimming the green open spaces of the park told of autumn and change.

A beautiful ending to a wonderful story.

I don’t have much to say in closing, especially since I’ll need to get to my gate for a trip overseas. I’m glad to live in modern times given that, amazingly, we can now fly to other countries which would have been an absurd idea for the people in this book. Modern times are both incredible and anxiety causing at the same time.

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! \(^.^)/