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Diary: Pat Ashworth

07 June 2019


What goes around. . .

IT IS with some surprise that I find myself sitting in a launderette in a market town in the Yorkshire Dales. I haven’t been in one of these since the early days of married life and flat-dwelling, when we would dump our washing at lunchtime on a Saturday and head off to a congenial pub on Wimbledon Common while it frothed and foamed.

A massive duvet destined for a local charity has proved too much for my sister’s washing-machine and our handling capabilities; so here we are — sitting on two bright-pink chairs, lulled by the hum, warmed by the heat, and curious about the lives represented by high shelves of plump and labelled bags of laundry.

We don’t have to wait long. It’s Friday: B&B changeover day, and owners are in and out of here like figures on a cuckoo clock. We learn more about guests than we ever knew. The ones who leave the place in mint condition, and the ones who don’t. And then there are the dogs. . .

But we pick up other vibes, too, notably in the bright and busy young and middle-aged women bringing in Mum’s washing and ironing. Launderettes are a good place to take the pulse of society and region. The only thing that would bar us from using this one is firmly spelled out in a notice on the wall: absolutely no horse blankets.


Now and England

TRAVELLING has been a feature of the month: my play about the Synod of Whitby, Not Just Fish and Ships, is seeing the light of day this summer and autumn, and we are doing site-visits to each of the six churches and cathedrals where it is going to be performed. They are awesome, and we can’t believe our good fortune in being allowed to play in them. We test the acoustic with some notes of plainchant, and a shiver goes down our spines.

I’m most moved at St Mary and St Laurence, Bolsover. Like the neighbouring castle, it’s set on the natural terrace of a limestone escarpment, and the interior is so beautiful that it elicits a gasp of surprise and pleasure the first time you see it. I stroke the smooth marble of the sumptuous Cavendish monuments, and take in the tender detail of the nativity carving, dating from around 1300. The head is missing from the infant Christ, and somehow it doesn’t seem to matter.

But it’s the National Union of Mineworkers’ banner that draws my eye. They dug coal here for more than 100 years, until the pit closed in 1993, and, when Bolsover gets a mention, it’s often in the context of the “Beast of Bolsover”: the uncompromising Labour MP Dennis Skinner, who has held the seat in this part of Derbyshire for almost 50 years.

The banner shows Bolsover Castle on its high hill, a Stuart extravagance built for pleasure and entertainment. The pithead is below and to the right, and two figures stand at the centre. On the left is a flamboyant gentleman with a fine moustache and a plumed hat, sporting a brightly striped doublet and looking every inch an actor in a play.

He clasps the hand of a modern-day miner, who wears an open-necked shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a pit helmet. The scene is framed by oak leaves and elaborate, curling decorations, and two miners’ lanterns are depicted on tasselled ropes. The words “Our Heritage” are as firm as the handclasp, and speak both powerfully and poignantly into the economy of today.


Seen afresh

IT IS a change to be on foot as we do the annual prayer walk around the entire boundary of our parish — not beating the bounds (what fun that would be), but stopping at various points to pray for particular people or needs. The distance is almost nine miles, and, because it’s a route we wouldn’t normally travel, taking odd little diversions, we observe things that would normally go unnoticed or unremarked.

Like how precious the Green Belt is, for instance. This is a suburb of Nottingham: a parish of upwards of 8000 people, and mostly residential — there’s no industry here, and there are few businesses.

But, with our fresh eyes, we see how green it is. The boundary runs first along Bluebell Hill, separated from the busy A52 route by a swath of farmland, and thick with ferns. We stand on the bridge that straddles the road and pray for drivers’ safety as the traffic roars beneath us.

We notice afresh how wide the park is, and how well-used; we pass the crematorium and pray for the staff there; we find ourselves disappearing into trees on a leafy lane, backing on to houses, that none of us really knew was there. It leads us to the railway bridge over the cutting, and on to another track through woods and by playing-fields that will soon be a massive housing development: we pray for wise handling of change.


Taking greens for granted

GREEN lungs pop up, even in the most built-up parts of the parish. I once met a couple from Tokyo in a hotel in the Lake District. They were looking out over the vast expanse of the fells, and marvelling that we could walk anywhere, at any time. To enjoy just a game of golf in Tokyo would require booking at least a month in advance, they said — and I think that’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard.


Pat Ashworth is a journalist, playwright, and theatrical landlady.

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