Pines and needles
SINCE childhood, it has been my habit to wander around barefoot in the house. Indeed, as a child I preferred not to wear shoes outside the house either, earning me the nickname “Blackfoot” for obvious reasons. These days, I usually don shoes for forays into the outside world, but I do tend to revert to my old ways in the house.
This isn’t always a good idea in the weeks after Christmas; wayward pine needles abound, especially when you have a somewhat relaxed attitude to vacuuming. This year, the pine needles have been joined by a guerrilla force of plastic figures who, having escaped our Christmas games of Risk, have proved adept at evading recapture; camouflaged in red, green, blue, and beige, they blend in with our rug, lurking within the soft pile, awaiting the approach of an unwary, naked foot.
It is probably just as well that the sitting room is at the back of the house and out of hearing range of the tender ears of Warton’s villagers.
ONE joy of living in this area is our proximity to the Leighton Moss RSPB reserve, which has featured on the BBC TV programme Autumn Watch. This winter, the starling murmurations have been beautiful to behold, and especially poignant when one realises that the birds who are performing such exquisite aerial acrobatics are on the critical list of the most endangered birds in the UK.
We have been doing our best to keep the bird life of Warton well fed over winter: feeders are stationed strategically around the garden, catering for the various dietary requirements of our avian guests. Our reward has been a growing congregation of birds who gather in the bushes and trees awaiting feeding time. Food has always been a good starting-point in building community.
SADLY, despite our success with the wildlife, we have not been able to host many meals or social events for human beings in the vicarage.
What would have been the dining room, next to the kitchen, is home to my elderly mother, who is easily disturbed and becomes distressed by noise and “strangers”. She was frail before we moved, but she is now positively fragile; a delicate porcelain doll, faded with age but retaining her innate elegance and grace — and in need of very careful dusting, as my mother herself has joked.
It was, however, no joke when she fell before Christmas, and had to spend three nights in hospital. Thankfully she suffered no major physical harm, although the fall left her with two spectacular black eyes. The worst of the damage done was to her self-confidence, which is proving rather harder to heal than her bruises.
Crowning by proxy
GIVEN my mother’s increasing infirmity, she cannot safely be left alone in the house, which means that my own activities have been somewhat curtailed. I did manage to spend some time with the local playgroup before Christmas, retelling the nativity story in weekly instalments, which was great fun.
There is nothing like a group of toddlers to keep you on your toes. I was once asked what Mary and Joseph did with the gold that the Magi brought — that little girl is probably an accountant now.
Sadly, however, it seems unlikely that I will be able to be involved in any Lenten work with the local schools this year. My hope is that my husband will be able to introduce one of the primary schools to the “crown of thorns” activity, where we help the children to experience the transforming power of love with a crown of thorns that gradually becomes a crown of flowers (Diary, 22 January 2016).
I must hunt out my resources box which is, I hope, somewhere in the depths of the cellars beneath the house. It should contain the makings of the crown which, if my memory serves me well, are all intact, except the foam flowers, which were looking a little tired when last I saw them.
FLOWERS of a different sort have been on my mind lately. The garden
is beginning to take shape: four raised beds are now in situ, and the huge expanse of grass is split into different areas by plantings of laurel, dogwood, beech, wild roses, and blackthorn. Within these areas we have planted flowering shrubs such
as Mexican orange blossom and viburnum bodnantense: shrubs which don’t mind a little benign neglect. I am fully aware of my limitations as a gardener.
I was delighted to see that the bulbs we planted in autumn are now poking their heads up, promising us that, despite the grey January skies, spring is on the way.
Lessons from Burns
JANUARY, although bleak, is not without some pleasures. As Jean-Paul Sartre wrote: “To read a poem in January is as lovely as to go for a walk in June.” Especially if one can indulge in some comfort food in the form of tatties, ’neeps, and haggis while enjoying the poetry.
Robert Burns was, unquestionably, not without faults, but he was also a vocal opponent of injustice and hypocrisy. As I write this, President Trump is blundering through the fall-out from his alleged comments on African nations; I cannot help feeling that he, too, might benefit from some January poetry.
Mind you, given his reputed antipathy to the written word, perhaps someone should just read him this little snippet from the closing verse of “To a Louse”:
O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion. . .
Elizabeth Figg’s husband is the Vicar of Warton and Borwick with Yealand, in Lancashire.