ANSWERING the doorbell when you live in a vicarage is like opening Forrest Gump’s legendary box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. But when the first words to greet you are “Who are you, then?”, swiftly followed by “I’m disgusted,” you know you’ve hit a coffee cream rather than a chocolate truffle.
This particular visit happened a few weeks ago when, naturally, my husband was out. The doorbell rang — and, when I say “rang”, I mean it really rang: one long, persistent, unbroken note that demanded my attention. Abandoning what I had been doing, I rushed to find out what emergency was unfolding.
Standing there was a stranger, finger jammed against the doorbell, wearing an expression such as must have inspired Shakespeare to write, “Why, what’s the matter, That you have such a February face, So full of frost, of storm, and cloudiness?”
This “emergency” was much ado about nothing: the caller was enraged by the felling of a tree, which had been taken down by the council last summer when they began repairing the collapsing churchyard wall.
I explained the rationale behind the felling — public safety — and suggested that the caller should contact the council if they wished to take their complaint further. They left, apparently mollified but wholly unapologetic, and defiantly anonymous, having refused to give a name.
I went into the kitchen and vented my own emotions by giving the bread dough, which had been innocently rising, a very thorough kneading; the resulting rolls were lighter, fluffier, and more delicious than any I’ve made in a long time; so, perhaps, all’s indeed well that ends well.
I FEAR that the vicarage hens are in a muted mood. It is hardly surprising, as they have been confined to quarters since early December. If you are not a poultry keeper, you may not be aware of the Prevention Zone put in place by DEFRA in response to an outbreak of avian flu; this sensible precaution seeks to stop the spread of the disease by separating poultry from wild birds who are potential carriers.
Fortunately, we were able to press our polytunnel into service as a secure enclosure for our chooks; out went the seed trays and potting benches, and in came the coop and our small flock of hens. Initially, we had hoped to set them free again in early January, but, sadly, fresh outbreaks mean that it will be 28 February at the earliest before they can feel the Yorkshire rain falling freely on their backs once more.
I have tried to make the tunnel more interesting for the chooks: I have hidden food under the straw with which I’ve covered the floor, so that they have to scratch to find it; hung apples and seed balls from the frame to encourage them to stretch up and peck; I even cannibalised one of my potting benches to provide extra roosts for them.
Unfortunately, nothing can make a 3m × 12m polytunnel as exciting as being able to roam unfettered from first light to lights out, and the hens appear quite unimpressed by my amateurish efforts to stimulate and entertain them. Lately, although I can hear them chattering to each other as I approach the tunnel, as soon as I enter, the burbling stops; it seems that I may have been sent to poultry Coventry.
Mind you, as silence is at somewhat of a premium in my life, perhaps I should not be too upset.
Sowing the seeds
SILENCE of another order will be on offer at Kildwick in a couple of weeks, as we explore the positive benefits of prayerful silence with the director of the Bradford-based project Seeds of Silence, Dr Alison Woolley.
The project aims at helping Christians rediscover the spiritual discipline of silence. As they say on their website (www.seedsofsilence.org.uk): “For many people, discovering Christianity’s long, rich tradition of meditation and contemplative silence has revitalised prayer lives that felt stale and helped them find space with God again.”
Finding an inner still-point is not something that always comes easy; so I am looking forward to being guided through some contemplative exercises by Alison. A good start to the season of Lent.
Fishy tale to tell
LENT and Easter have been much on my mind, as I consider what it might be possible to offer our local schools. I’ve been looking at the Jumping Fish resources, available from Gloucester (www.gloucester.anglican.org/schools/jumping-fish).
They have some interesting material. We’ve bought their Experience Easter pack (£15), which is aimed at churches that work with schools and young people. The pack suggests stations covering six key moments in the Easter story, and provides scripts for leaders, suggestions as to how to set up the stations, and ideas for interactive activities.
I may tweak a few things to adapt it for our parish, but the resource is, essentially, ready to use. An added bonus is that the sheets for each station are separate and laminated, meaning that they’re robust enough to survive a good few uses.
BEFORE we arrive at Lent, however, we have the rest of February to endure — I mean enjoy — not least St Valentine’s Day. In case any priest is pondering what to give their spouse, as Charles M. Schulz wrote: “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” Just avoid the coffee creams.
Elizabeth Figg is married to the Vicar of Kildwick, near Keighley.