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09 December 2016


Cave canem
I AM writing this on a cold, wet, and stormy Yorkshire evening; the fire is alight, but, in truth, what is keeping me warm is the dog. She has wrapped herself around my feet, and is now snoring contentedly, secure in the knowledge that I cannot escape without alerting her to my departure.

She is part collie, and I suspect that she likes to have those she deems to be part of her flock rounded up and safely secured in the fold, especially on wild winter nights such as this one.

Sadly for her, I am the only one available for herding at the moment, since my elderly mother spends much of her time in her bedroom; the boys are not home until Christmas; and, in common with most clergy, much the same could be said of my husband.


Beneath the crown
THE season of Advent tends to pass in a blur of activity for most people involved in ministry. My husband is now fully immersed in the pre-Christmas whirlpool of events: school plays, nativities, and concerts; carol singing and services in care homes; and a plethora of “drinks and nibbles” events; not to mention “ordinary” services.

One event that he always looks forward to is our ecumenical open-air nativity, which is held in the park of a local village. This year, my husband will reprise his role as one of the Magi; it is a role he relishes not, as one wag said, because he is an Anglican, and enjoys dressing up (well, not only because of that), but because it does not require him to learn any lines, which means he can enjoy just taking part.

Also, his costume is such that he can wear several layers to help retain body heat, and even a cap under his crown to ward of the worst of the cold. A wise man indeed.


Temperature envy
THIS week, I received an email from the theologian Margaret Barker, who was just back from California having been on a lecture tour. Apparently, the average temperature there had been a comfortable 26-28°C.

I passed this information on to my brother, who lives in Wisconsin but is considering moving to California; his stepdaughter has just started at the University of California, and, apparently, if her parents moved to live “in-state”, there would be a reduction in the tuition fees.

I suspect that the climate may be just as enticing for him as the potential savings: Wisconsin is not a state noted for mild winters. When they first moved there, several years ago, it did not take long for him to “go native” and buy a snow-blower to keep his drive navigable. They also invested in a large wood-burner to make life bearable in the harsh winter.


Cromwellian wannabe
UNFORTUNATELY, it will take considerably more than a wood-burner to make this post-election winter bearable for many of my friends in the United States.

In the days after the results were announced, some drew comfort from an apparent softening of Mr Trump’s rhetoric; they began to wonder if his election campaign, unpleasant as it was, had been bluster and hyperbole. Then things became darker once more, as he appointed Steve Bannon, of Breitbart News Network, as his chief strategist.

Breitbart News Network is the parent company of the far-right website Breitbart News, which Mr Bannon described in an interview with the online magazine Mother Jones (www.motherjones.com) asthe platform for the alt-right”. For those of us who are not sure what the “alt-right” stands for in the US, the New York Times describes them as “a loosely organized group of mostly young men who believe in white supremacy; oppose immigration, feminism and multiculturalism; and delight in harassing Jews, Muslims and other vulnerable groups by spewing shocking insults on social media.”

Mr Bannon apparently described himself to a journalist from the Hollywood Reporter as “Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors.” Perhaps he thought Mr Trump would be flattered to be cast in the role of Henry VIII, a man who famously liked to get his own way; perhaps he admired the wiliness that Cromwell showed as a manipulator par excellence and panderer-in-chief to his much-married monarch; or perhaps he just thought it would make a good sound-bite.

Whatever his motives for likening himself to Cromwell, I suspect that it’s a fair bet that he is — or at least was — unaware of the fate that befell his hero.


Be our light
SO, WHAT hope is there for a world where Mr Trump et al will be in power? The hope that love will indeed trump hate. During Advent, we send two Posadas around the parish; Mary, Joseph, donkey, and sheep stay in houses, schools, pubs, and shops on their way back to church on Christmas Eve.

To see the delight of the hosts, adults and children, as they welcome the Posada and retell the Christmas story is to know that there is yet hope for the world, and light in the darkness.


Intoxicated livestock
THANK you to everyone who contacted me with tales of livestock tipsy on windfall fruit after my last column (4 November). I am so glad to know that your pigs, geese, and ponies are just as partial to a spot of natural scrumpy as my hens.

And now I must disturb the dog and brave the storm to weigh down our polytunnel with a few more rocks, or I fear I shall be chasing it all over the village again — but that is another story.


Elizabeth Figg is married to the Vicar of Kildwick, near Keighley.

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