IT SEEMS as if I was premature in congratulating myself on our smooth move: it has apparently all been too much for Alexandra the hen. Alerted by the vociferous clucking of her “sisters”, I found her little grey body nestled in the shelter of one of our garden benches.
Hetty II and Hermione were sitting on either side of her, and Boudicca was standing guard as all three sent up what seemed to be the poultry equivalent of the Nunc Dimittis.
Alexandra was older than the others, and was a beautiful Bluebelle hen with a gentle, inquisitive nature. Her grey/blue plumage and scarlet comb inspired her naming: a nod to my past, as grey and scarlet are the colours of Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps. I shall miss her friendly presence in the garden, and the eggs she so diligently laid.
From fiddle to iPod
THE garden is progressing slowly — imperceptibly slowly, one might say — which is in some measure because of the stony nature of the ground beneath what has turned out to be a thin layer of topsoil. This is not a new problem, as I learned when I went to an evening talk by the local writer, journalist, and radio producer Andy Denwood, who has a keen interest in the history of the area.
Andy has just edited and published a new edition of A History of Warton Parish, written in the 1700s by a schoolmaster, John Lucas, the son of a local farmer. (For further information, visit www.andydenwood.com.)
Apparently, the farmers used to resort to using explosives to break up the larger stones so that their oxen could plough the fields. I fear that the neighbours, the diocese, and, indeed, English Heritage (the vicarage grounds include the Grade I Listed ruins of Warton Old Rectory) might not take it too kindly were I to employ such drastic measures; so I plan to install some raised beds, both for vegetables and for flowers, in the gardens. This will provide a great excuse to use our new cordless drill.
A rather more peaceful technique used by farmers in the past to increase productivity was the hiring of a fiddler during harvest time. The fiddler would go from field to field, playing for the reapers to great effect, as Lucas records: “I have seen the young people whose backs have been bowed down with hard labour, in the hot sun for several hours, dance as briskly in the stubble as if they had been on a theatre . . . and, their spirits revived . . . fall to their labour again with redoubled vigour and activity.”
I suppose the modern-day equivalent is the ubiquitous iPod, although the communal nature of the experience is lost when we are all isolated in our own individual musical cocoons.
Weaving an old spell
WE ENJOYED some communal musical entertainment recently, when my husband and I ventured out to a concert by the Houghton Weavers. The band is well known in northern folk circles, and has been performing an annual charity concert in Borwick, one of the villages in the benefice, for years.
Having been raised on Scottish folk music with the likes of Flora MacNeil and Jean Redpath, I found the evening not quite what I was expecting, but it was great fun. The Weavers sang a mixture of well-known and easily joined-in-with songs, and, to me at least, some more obscure but readily picked-up ones.
“Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs”, “American Pie”, and “Those were the days, my friend” took me back to my childhood, watching Top of the Pops on the television we rented from, ironically enough, Radio Rentals.
I think that the songs I enjoyed most, however, were the ones I was hearing for the first time, my favourite being “The Martians have landed in Wigan”. I’m looking forward to next year’s concert already.
Time to party
THERE is also much to look forward to in the coming weeks: my mother will be celebrating her 96th birthday on Hallowe’en. She shares her birthday (but not her age) with Number 1 Son’s partner, and this year, for the first time, we’ll be able to celebrate these two wonderful women at one special tea, since we are having something of a family get-together.
The house will be groaning at the seams as Figgs from all “airts and pairts” descend on Warton; sadly, Number 3 Son won’t be present physically, but, thanks to the joys of modern technology, he’ll be able to join in from Munich via Skype.
Mind you, the internet connection being what it is here, we’ll probably spend a good deal of time eating birthday cake while staring at his picture and watching a small circle swirling industriously around the centre of the screen. I’m told that the circle is much like the “counting” noise produced by cash machines: merely a sop provided to reassure us that things are, indeed, happening.
Knit none, purl none
ONE thing that is happening, all over the benefice, is the mass production of knitted sheep. All being well, we will have enough sheep to send out a “travelling crib” around both of the parishes in the benefice on Advent Sunday. Each host family will keep a sheep and bring it back to church at Christmas.
Unfortunately, Alexandra is not the only casualty of the move: all the activity has caused the rheumatoid arthritis to flare in my hands, which means that I cannot knit any sheep. There are, of course, those who would say that I can’t knit at the best of times. “Baa, humbug!” I say.
Elizabeth Figg is married to the Vicar of Warton with Yealand Conyers, in Lancashire.