In case you didn’t know it (and I’m sure that you do) it’s the winter solstice today which means we’re as far away from the sun as it is possible to get. Or at least it feels that way in Cleckhuddersfax.
We’ve been here for the best part of a week now and I don’t think the sun has shown its face once. In fact, the only way of knowing whether it is night or day is to check if the street lights are on or not.
I had thought that being on the 14th floor of the tower block might lift us above the cloud, but all we see through the windows is a permanent fug of rain and sleet.
Pc Barraclough says this is a result of the town’s micro-climate caused by the steam rising from the tripe works on Jutland Street. It is Cleckhuddersfax’s last remaining major employer and the only place still working flat out in these straitened times.
I’m sure he must be right. The air has a definite offal quality to it with subtle vinegary overtones. It is something of an acquired taste.
For those of you who don’t know what tripe is, consider yourself fortunate, but if your curiosity won’t rest, try this link.
But back to the solstice, the pagans celebrate it as Yule, which is where we get the name Yuletide. Some say that the church hijacked Yule and replaced it with Christmas, but this is clearly nonsense or else they would have got their dates right.
All the druids and the popes had to do was check their calendars, or Stonehenge, or something, and diarise as they say in business circles.
Pc Derek had promised to organise a lift to take us to the moors on the western side of the Pennines where the air is always clearer and we would have a better chance of actually seeing the sun rise, and I have to say he did us proud.
Police driver Clarkson was at the wheel of the Humber Sceptre in his pristine, leatherette driving gloves and there were four police motorcycle outriders with flashing blue lights. I felt like royalty.
Pc Barraclough obviously thought so too, waving and smiling out of the car window in his matching salmon pink outfit, even though the streets were deserted at that hour, apart from a confused looking milkman who doffed his cap as we passed.
We ended up somewhere on the West Pennine Moors, but with all the twists and turns in the road, I’d lost my sense of direction, so I couldn’t tell you exactly where.
Pc Barraclough had got changed during the drive, a risky exercise as at one point he cracked police driver Clarkson on the back of the head with a slingback-shoed foot, putting the car in a skid.
He now wore a long, flowing, light grey robe tied at the waist with what looked like a length of curtain cord. On his head was a wreath of greenery, dotted here and there with white mistletoe berries.
Some were bearded, some clean shaven, and they stood around shivering in the pre-dawn gloom, sipping from hipflasks or gulping from cans of strong lager, and smoking their roll-ups.
As the clock ticked toward 8:22, they gathered in a semicircle facing east, ready for the moment when the sun would peek over the distant horizon. And as they waited, they chanted ancient words that have been uttered down the centuries.
The bitter wind dropped without warning and all was quiet as the sky began to burn orange. The sun rose and on this signal, the Ancient Order of Druids and Seers (Cleckhuddersfax Branch) lifted their robes as one to expose an assortment of camisoles, corsets and self-supporting stockings to the sun’s rays. It was a moving sight.
“Brother Maurice Wilson!” they answered in unison, knocking back their drinks in one.
Pc Barrowclough slept for most of the journey back, snoring noisily, his nose blushing red, but Pc Derek explained all.
It seems Maurice Wilson is still revered in Yorkshire druidic circles as the man who had come closest to the sun while wearing women’s underwear when he conquered Everest in 1934 and lost his life in the process.
This simple and moving ceremony has renewed my determination to see to it that the memory of this unsung son of York is yet honoured in his own land.
* ‘You can shut it away for a time, but it ain’t going away’ — Elvis Presley