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Diary: Elizabeth Figg

20 July 2018


Heat of the Spirit

BY THE time you read this, the Revd Dr Jill Duff will have been consecrated and installed as our new Bishop of Lancaster. My husband drove some of our parishioners over the Pennines to York for the consecration on one of the hottest days of the year, and was relieved to find York a degree or two cooler than Warton.

I have fond memories of York, but none of them feature heat. When our sons were young, I would take them to York for the annual Viking festival in February — an odd time for a festival, one might think, but it is inspired by “Jolablot”, an ancient Norse festival celebrating winter’s end and the first stirrings of spring’s resurgent life. The boys loved it, although they never did manage to persuade their father to enter the Best Beard contest.

Thankfully, although our sons are now either at university or working, they come home often, and have been helping us to explore the area. Together, we’ve discovered a wonderful spot to sit in and watch the sun turn the clouds into molten copper as it sets behind the mountains of the Lake District.

We have also found what appears to be the oldest ha-ha in the UK: not a response to my husband’s repertoire of jokes, but a landscaping device that enables the residents of large country houses to enjoy views of the surrounding countryside without having their gardens raided by livestock (in other words, it is a large ditch). Apparently, the one at Levens Hall, near Milnthorpe, dates from the 1690s, as does the house’s topiary garden, which is the largest in the world and includes giant chess pieces, peacocks, and umbrellas, all expertly trimmed into shape.

Walking through the garden was a surreal experience: I half expected to see the White Rabbit running ahead of us down the passageways formed by the enormous hedges.


Forward planning

THE hedges in our garden, although not as vast (or well-kept) as those at Levens Hall, have provided us with plentiful bounty. In early June, our back garden was fringed with an extravagant display of elderflowers in all their lacy beauty. Having experienced the home-brew equivalent of “shock and awe” when my home-made elderflower champagne detonated in the garage one memorable night many years ago, I am reluctant to risk a repeat performance. Instead, I have made elderflower gin.

Number Two son will tell you that being a taster for my experimental recipes is not always an unmitigated pleasure; my rock-like treacle scones will live long in infamy. Having been somewhat diffident when offered a sample of the gin, however, he’s taken a bottle back to Scotland with him, declaring it to be “Delicious, Mum” — not words I hear very often.

I have left enough elderflowers to ensure a good crop of berries later in the year. I’ve heard that elderberry gin is quite tasty, too.


Living dangerously

LIVING, as we now do, close to the M6, I have been renewing my acquaintance with the motorway. There was a time when I knew it so well that I would look out for individual clumps of wild flowers — some would say weeds — which clung precariously to life in the central reservation. I remember one patch of rosebay willowherb whose tenacity grew into a children’s talk: all’s grist as comes t’mill.

These days, I feel like a stranger on the road: I had to drive to Bristol recently, and even the roadworks — of which there are still plenty — felt unfamiliar, having crept along to slightly different spots since last I drove this way.

What has not changed is the volume of traffic, or the optimism of the lorry drivers who think that they will be able to overtake other HGVs on a hill. Optimism is one thing, delusional thinking quite another, although I am all for a little escapism on a long journey. I tend to listen to audiobooks while I drive: I’m saving Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology for my next run, which will be either up to Edinburgh, which hardly counts as a long run, or down to Exeter, which just might.


Blowing where it will

OF COURSE, that’s if our ancient chariot copes with the distances. Number Two son doesn’t have such worries with his new company car, which incorporates, among other delights, seats that can blow cold air up your, um, kilt on hot days — a feature that we made full use of when he took us to the “Catch the Wind” kite festival in Morecambe, which was colourful but not quite what I was expecting.

Rather than the stunt kites that I thought I would see, the sky was full of giant “character” kites, tethered to vehicles or weighted down by enormous, dumpy bags full of sand. Bat Girl flew alongside Superman, Nemo, and many other colourful creations.

It was good to see the crowds of families enjoying themselves, and, after a grey winter, Morecambe was a-buzz with life. It was even better to be cooled down by the car seats on the way home, an asset that my husband could have done with on the journey back from the consecration at York.

As Bishop Jill, her husband, and two young sons settle into Lancaster, I wish them well, and hope that they, too, amid all the hurly-burly of diocesan life, find time to escape and have fun together as a family. Perhaps they may “Catch the Wind” in Morecambe next year.


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

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