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Diary: Elizabeth Figg

12 October 2018


Ministry of caution

“**** you!” the man shouted over his shoulder as he stalked away from the house, turning at the gate to make an obscene gesture, the impact of which was somewhat diminished when he tripped and dropped his dufflebag.

For once, I was glad that our dog was barking noisily in our hallway. In previous vicarages, we’ve been used to callers looking for food, solace, train tickets, etc., and we’ve done what we could to help. This vicarage, however, seems to attract callers of a different variety. Once or twice a month, the doorbell rings and we find a man proffering an “ID card”, saying he’s an ex-convict on a government rehabilitation scheme. This scheme apparently requires him to sell what’s in his bag or “they” won’t give him a reference, which means he won’t be able to get on a training scheme/get a permanent job/get into college.

We have fallen for it a few times, buying what should be cheap household items for £9.99 a pop — well, £10, as they never offer change. Eventually, after buying a 50p “stain-removal sponge” for the obligatory £10 from another young man, I looked up the “government scheme” and found that it’s a scam (this webpage gives a good summary: www.safelocaltrades.com/consumers/advice/doorstep-pedlars).

When the next “salesman” rang the doorbell, I politely but firmly turned him away — much to his obvious disgust. Resisting the urge to call, “And also with you,” I closed the door, and surprised the dog by praising her barking abilities and giving her a morsel of cheese — not my usual response to her barking.

Living reminders

WITH the coming of autumn and some stormy weather, the leaves are beginning to fall from the trees in our garden, and Ingleborough, the second-highest mountain in the Yorkshire Dales, is once again visible from our house. I have fond memories of climbing it with the boys when they were children, and it was the first proper hill I managed to get up after my rheumatoid arthritis came under control. These days, the boys are all Munro-baggers [people who climb all the listed Munros: mountains in Scotland higher than 3000 feet], and spent much of our summer holiday ticking off mountains in the Cairngorms.

When not engaged in expending energy, they were in need of acquiring it; so hunger took us to Aberlour, and a fantastic shop that sells an array of cheese that would make a mouse weep with joy. On one trip to stock up, we took a wander through the churchyard (a favourite holiday pastime of ours), and found a war memorial for “The Old Boys” of the Aberlour orphanage. I find all war memorials moving, but this one for the orphans was almost unbearably so.

New Flanders fields

WITH the centenary of the ending of the First World War only weeks away, the benefice is in full poppy-production mode. The shops keep selling out of red wool, and I have cornered the market in red cupcake-cases and black sticky discs. Like many others, we are making displays of poppies for the commemoration. As there are three churches in the benefice, we need plenty of poppies.

All of our displays are being made from biodegradable materials, and, after the Remembrance services, they will be coated with poppy seeds and buried in each of the churchyards. The hope is that, in years to come, we will have an annual show of poppies springing from those we have made to mark the centenary of the Armistice.

Given that I put together a leaflet with knitting and crochet patterns, one might imagine that all the poppies would be identical; the end results, however, are as individual as the people who are making them, which makes them even more special.

Our two primary schools are making cupcake-case poppies; if you haven’t organised anything yet, and want something simple, these poppies are easy to make and can withstand rain and wind. I made a few test specimens which survived storms Ali and Bronagh. Instructions for the cupcake-case poppies can be found on YouTube (search “Remembrance Poppies, Warton”) or our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/UnitedWBY.

If you do watch the video, please forgive the somewhat weary voice-over: it was well past midnight when I recorded it at the end of what had been a very long day — not least because I had made the mistake of choosing to “let the train take the strain” on my way to a meeting in Stirling. Suffice to say, when I make a return trip to Stirling later this month, I shall be driving.

Answer to crime

STIRLING hosts the annual Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival, and, a few weeks ago, I was delighted to catch a bit of Saturday Live on the radio, when Richard Coles and Aasmah Mir were there, interviewing, among others, the archaeologist Neil Oliver — he of the soft Scottish tones and billowing locks. Hearing him tell how his interest in history was sparked by his Grandpa, who had a chunk of shrapnel lodged behind his ear from the First World War, and listening to the marvellous west-coast accents on the programme (Neil grew up in Dumfries, and Aasmah is Glaswegian) reminded me of my grandfather, who — to my grandmother’s despair — delighted in teaching my brother and me “weegie” (Glaswegian) words and phrases whenever we visited.

Long before the popularity of a certain cartoon character in striped jersey and bobble hat, we were running around shouting “Wur’s ma wallies?” (“Where are my false teeth?”) Perhaps, when faced with the obnoxious “salesman”, I should have used Grandpa’s favourite putdown: “Och, away ye go an bile yer heid!”

Elizabeth Figg is married to the Vicar of Warton and Borwick with Yealand, in Lancashire.

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