“THE wee gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat!” Throughout my childhood, this was the toast I heard my grandfather use before his daily tot of whisky; he had a predilection for a good single malt and for Highland folklore and legends; his skill as a teller of eldritch tales is the main reason I still have a moment of doubt each time I prepare to swim in a loch or the sea: who knows what lies beneath?
The “wee gentleman” referred to in the toast was not, however, some otherworldly creature; as some of you will know, he is, in fact, a mole. King William III, also known as William of Orange or King Billy, sparked the Jacobite Rising of 1689, and the subsequent 60-year-long Jacobite War, by deposing King James VII of Scotland (James II of England).
The mole became an unlikely hero of the Jacobites when, in 1702, the horse that William was riding stumbled on a molehill, unseating the King. The fall broke William’s collarbone, resulting in his developing pneumonia, from which he died. Jacobites have been toasting the humble mole’s health ever since.
I certainly would not advise any monarch to ride through our back garden at the moment: either every mole in the West Riding has congregated for a festival of digging, or we have a mole with a truly Yorkshire work ethic: never give up, never give in. I haven’t decided what to do yet: call in the exterminator, or live with the molehills. I’m inclined to side with our black-velvet-clad visitors, although our earthworm population may disagree.
Inside my head
WORMS of another variety are currently sabotaging my attempts at using daily periods of silence as a Lenten discipline: I have a bad case of earworms, those tunes that just will not stop running through one’s mind. I seem to have a soundtrack perpetually playing in the back of my mind.
Today’s is “Blessings On You”, by Shakespeare’s Fool (based on the song sung by Juno and Ceres in Act 4 of The Tempest), which is gentle and not overly intrusive; so, although I don’t achieve inner silence, my “quiet time” was still fairly tranquil. Yesterday, however, the song racketing around my brain was “Hot Patootie — Bless my Soul” by Meat Loaf; it is good for dancing to, but not exactly conducive to meditation.
Still, having written them down, I can see a pattern forming: perhaps tomorrow it will be Matt Redman’s rather more spiritual “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”, although the song that’s now stirring in the back of my mind is Bon Jovi’s “God Bless This Mess”, which, looking around the study, could be my theme tune.
Journey of reflection
HERE in Kildwick, after a long grey winter, it feels as if a divine director has called “Action!” The fields around the village are now full of young lambs careering around in groups, leaping, jumping, racing, and ignoring their mothers’ calls until they are hungry enough to stop playing; spring bulbs are erupting through the damp soil and sprinkling the countryside with vivid splashes of colour à la Jackson Pollock; and the birds are squabbling over nesting materials, and providing a mellifluous backing-track as the world shakes off its drab winter plumage and takes on the hues of spring.
Thankfully, our Lenten labyrinth of narcissi, crocuses, and irises is emerging on the church green, and soon, when we have two dry days in a row, we may be able to mow the path through the labyrinth to make it easier for those who enjoy walking it to do so.
When we first planted the labyrinth, some were dubious about how well it would be used, but, year by year, it has been walked and appreciated by a variety of people, including the children of our church school. Last Lent, we put together a meditation on the Lord’s Prayer, with stations throughout the labyrinth for people to pause and reflect on an aspect of the prayer.
This year, each station will feature a short poem, based loosely on the theme of pilgrimage — which is, some would say, what walking the labyrinth is intended to echo.
PERHAPS those attending our upcoming Saturday seminar may spend some of their lunch hour walking the labyrinth. We are delighted to welcome Dr Margaret Barker (Back-page interview, 20 January) back to Kildwick for the first weekend of April.
This time, Margaret is taking us on a pilgrimage to experience Holy Week in ancient Jerusalem using the writings of a Spanish woman, Egeria, who is thought to have been a nun. Egeria made her pilgrimage at some point between 380 and 384, and left an account of her experiences, including commentary on the churches she visited, the liturgy that was used, and some details of the preparation of baptismal candidates — eight weeks of studying five days a week, leading up to baptism at Easter, since you ask.
I am looking forward to exploring Egeria’s writing with Margaret, but, mostly, I am looking forward to just being with Margaret again. She is immensely good company, and I foresee a merry old time, sitting by the fire in the evenings and enjoying finding where the conversation takes us, especially as we have some old friends staying with us at the same time. Who knows? We may even indulge in a toast or two.
Elizabeth Figg is married to the Vicar of Kildwick, near Keighley.