The Blue Flower
It was close by my talking place that I later found an exquisite little blue flower which the teacher said was a speedwell, and whose name I remembered always, but didn’t see the flower again for many years. The other wall was the one at the front of the whole land, were I watched for Dad coming up the hill. There was a well-built, high wall round the big house along the lane, which had ivy in places, and a few little spider-holes and tiny bits of vegetation – walls were always interesting to loiter beside.
Until that time I contented myself playing my own games largely, I had several walls that were nice places to pretend. The front garden wall had a flat sandstone top, and if I rubbed my fingers or palms about on this, a slight powdery patch developed and my skin became wondrously soft and smooth – I never quite wore it away. If I wanted to produce a heap of sand instead of a thin skinned finger, I rubbed another piece of stone to and fro on the wall, and soon had al little pile to scoop up. Along the back lane there was an angle of the wall round a little field which had started to fall apart, and there was a sort of little cavern about my head height and a shelf like stone below the gap: there I used to go to try talking like the older people did. I ‘did things’ on the shelf, perhaps baking , writing, washing up, all the things so important to adult like, making talking noises to myself.
Stony Lane was one of my favourite places; it seemed to have lovely flowers and blackberries late. I didn’t go there on my own as far as I remember, but seemed to often be there with Dad, Maurice or the gang. One day I was out with Dad, and for once picked some magnificent buttercups along the lane and lagged behind. When we turned into Scholes Lane, I ran very fast to catch him and show my flowers, but unfortunately fell and really hurt my knees as the road had recently had big chippings spread. I always had a blackish mark on my right knee as a result, and I howled and howled. The thing that caused my heartbreak however was the sight of the smashed golden petals, smeared over the sharp granite chips.
Our favourite picnic place was near Bilberry Hall, perhaps a quarter mile further, on a silver-sand twisty path, single file. There were several high earth banks, maybe fifteen feet or so, long and deeply covered with heather and bilberry. Away across the other side of the path were small round hillocks, with a hollow on top, and an opening towards the long mounds. These had been constructed during the Great War, for shooting practice, and there were said to be many little souvenirs to be found on those banks. The only things I found were bilberries and ladybirds. We would settle on the hollow top of one of the round mounds, and each do what we wanted. Give me a little blue sugar bag and I was happy all day, gathering a few ounces of bilberries, breaking off my search briefly for bread and butter and a banana, some milk, and some feather cake – always bananas!
There were definitely different coloured ladybirds then, some were quite pale yellow, some orange, scarlet, and quite a dark red. If there were a lot about, I might gather all I could find, carefully carrying them back to our hilltop hollow, hoping they would settle there long enough for me to go off and find some more, and get a spectacular crowd of different colours.
Very rarely, an aeroplane would slowly chug across the sky, perhaps I saw one or two in the whole year: I associate the sound and sight with the moor picnic afternoons. I used to be tired walking home and was notorious for lagging behind – there always seemed to be large bilberries beside the path when we were supposed to be walking home, and would always end up stopping for something far too amazing to ignore, and then running to catch up with the others.
My favourite Sunday walk was straight up the road beyond Greetland Church, then right along a lane called Moor Bottom where the wind always whistled tunefully through some telephone wires going to the last house of Greetland proper. I felt so good up there where the wind blew, the shiny grass blew flat, the birds blew about, into and out of the trees that had been planted round the last house in an attempt to protect the occupants from the blast. We didn’t often meet other people out walking once we were away from the houses. Many years later when I was visiting my parents at Elland, George and I went to a rugby Union match in a field on Moor Bottom, and certainly it was as windy as I had remembered. It must have been impossible to find a field further down the hill; they would never have had that field as their first choice!
A little way along Moor Bottom we turned up an overgrown tummocky track and passed Bilberry Hall. What a wonderful name! We were on to the Moor then, and its many delights. The open moor was difficult to walk over, as the heather in most places was old and tall; the surface underneath was very uneven, with quite deep holes at times, so it became quite interesting when you couldn’t see your feet or what they were landing on. I enjoyed walking through the heather though, and some parts were ‘swealed’ or burnt, I didn’t understand why. When the heather had been burnt, the thickest old twigs were still standing but were brittle, and the lovely snappy sound and feeling of walking across those patches was one of life’s pleasures. Where there were paths, it seemed every little hollow filled up with beautiful silvery grit, coarse or powder-fine. Sometime up there we would see a group of men playing knurr and spell which intrigued me but I never got near enough to discover quite what they were doing. The game was played with white, pot noggies which were, I think suspended in little slings on a stick, above the heather, and then whacked. How they ever found them I don’t know but when they weren’t playing we often found a noggy or two. Some things don’t change, the heather smelt wonderful as you walked it, and it sill does.
Dad, me and Maurice on Norland Moor
The Game of Knurr and Spell
Watch a video of Knurr and Spell being played (courtesy of Yorkshire Film Archive Online)