Sunday 18 October 2009

Boody, Gaudi, and The Drowned Land

I was nine years old when I came to the North to live and it wasboody 004 Shadowy like coming onto a different planet. People were hard to understand. It was not just the accent or dialect, it was attitudes and assumptions. People were difficult to read. The confusion must have been mutual because my older brother was beaten at school, harassed because of his ‘poncy’ southern accent, and sensibly reverted to the local lingo in weeks. I didn’t suffer because I was frozen with confusion and possibly dumb with grief at my father’s recent death. I spoke very little.

The domestic arrangements took some adjusting to. We stayed at first in my relative’s spotless house where the bath was tin and lived on a hook in the yard and the toilet was across the public back lane. I soon discovered that this toilet  was a place of escape, of silence. I could sit on the high throne and read, eat stolen sweets, or just muse about how terrible my life was.

One day I was sitting there and my eye moved upwards to a high shelf above the door. On it were two large, glass jam jars.  I clambered up to snatch ne so I could see it properly. Someone had filled it with shards of coloured glass,  bright stones, broken, patterned pottery, and seashells. boody 003 full size  Holding it up in the beam of light streaming through a crack in the wooden door, I thought it was beautiful.

Later I asked my cousin what the jars were.

He looked annoyed. ‘Yeh shouldn’a looked,’ he said.

‘Why not?’ I said with unusual persistence.

‘’S’a secret.’

‘What is it for?’ I said.

‘It’s not for anything,’ he said scornfully. ‘It’s boody. It just is. And it’s a secret. It’s always secret. Yeh have ter hide it.’ He punched my arm. ‘Yeh tell nobody!’ Then he ran off to kick a hard leather ball with his friends.

The boody jars were a great resource for me in the following difficult months of adjustment. I would take them down and hold them up in the stream of light and feel comforted. I never questioned the name. Boody jars were boody jars.

Years later I started to reflect on them. The name, I decided, could come from two sources. Boody could be a childish name for beautiful. It also called up the notion of booty – war chest items seized by force or looting on land, or by piracy by sea. Come to think of it, that fits the tradition of secrecy - hiding the haul.

I think now that because the booboody 001dy jars consoled me at a difficult time of my life the image  of them has stayed with me. I even have my own boody jar on a shelf in my upstairs, inside toilet. It’s not a jam jar, just an old glass vase that was hanging around.

When I was in Barcelona some years ago and saw the Gaudi wall in the Parc Gruell, I instantly thought of Antoni Gaudi Guell Park - mosaic seating area adorned with multi-coloured tilesthe boody jars. These gorgeous curving walls are faced with a mosaic of broken pottery tesselated into intricate, almost random, patterns. I was told that the workmen were given the pottery shards and they improvised the patterns, but I don’t know whether that it’s true. I like the idea of the democracy of artists and that explanation might explain the walls’ childlike appeal.

Then this June I visited the Abbaye de Valmagne in the Languedoc.  Between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries this Cistercian P1160139edifice was one of the richest abbeys in South of France. Here, as well as acquiring fine church artefacts and church based gold  the monks  grew plants to feed themselves, to cure illness and  flowers to decorate the altar of the Virgin Mary altar.

Then in 1875 the Huguenots sacked the abbey and killed the monks.  All the stained glass of the roses and clerestories were shattered.

The abbey was slowly restored, but after the Revolution in 1789  it was ransacked agaiP1160137n, this time by revolutionaries. The last five monks fled and the church was sold off as a wine store.  Paradoxically  the huge vats that were lodged  the nave and side chapels, saved the fabric of this great building from destruction.  As in England, deserted abbeys were commonly used as stone quarries to build houses and more mundane buildings..

Fast forward  to 1988,   1998, 1999, 2002, 2003 and 2005 when there was serious flooding in the Gard and HéraP1160135 Boodyult  regions of France. The French use the word inondation which has a very biblical feel about it.

Anyway, during these floods very fine fragments of  the Abbey’s first medieval shattered glass began to come to the surface. Over the years an artist collected them until he had sufficient to make this beautiful glass panel which, back lit, allows us to see through that same exquisite glass as did those early medieval monks.

And now I wonder if - through the years, as he slowly collected his bits of glass –  the artist kept them in boody jars, colour coded. 

"Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it." -


  1. My house is covered in 'boody jars'; my pots of memories that make me smile, laugh, wonder, remember... To anybody else they are random bits that probably need a good dust.

    You can hold a shell in your hand and remember how the sun felt and the food you ate, and the conversations and the long walk home.

    I'm happy that my jars and pots and vases and dishes now have a name.

  2. We have a fellow feeling about boody, Lisette

  3. The little things that can help a young person settle into a new place are wonderful. It seems your brother found his safety in conformity.
    You perhaps found release by escaping into imagination. What a profound shift given where I presume it has led you.
    I don't have jars, and the objects I collect are not necessarily beautiful, but they do spark my imagination. I have a wooden platter with an odd assortment of rocks, for example: a few fossils I have found here in Oz; a chalk pebble from Dover; a piece of flint scrap from a Bronze Age hill fort; a fragment of stone taken from near the crater left by the Fauld Explosion.

  4. Dear Al
    My imagination remains my great escape route even today. Also here I hoped to make the point that we are all connected by the random beauty of even the smallest things, even boody.
    I am now off to look up the Fauld explosion to make another connection...

  5. I don't have a boody jar - I sometimes collect boody in the shape of shells, pieces of china or coloured glass and then end up losing these fragments or worse still throwing them away - but having read your beautiful post I have decided things will be different - from today onwards I have a boody jar sitting on my desk just waiting for treasure! Thank you Wendy- it's important to be reminded of the beauty in small things.

    Love the window from the Abbey de Valmagne - an inspirational place I thought, for me it was definitely a place where spirits rose up rather like the galss from the flood.

    A x

  6. Thank you for leaving a comment on my blog; it has brought me to this treasure chest of stories and the lovely word 'boody' to apply to my jars and bowls of memories.



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