Diary: Elizabeth Figg

26 January 2018

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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.

 

Feathered friends

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.

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Fragile ornament

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.

 

Floral harbinger

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.

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