Diary: Elizabeth Figg

09 March 2018

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One for the pot

HOW is your Lent going? Ours started, as it does in many vicarages, with the burning of last year’s palm crosses to make ash for Ash Wednesday.

If you search “How to make Ash Wednesday ash” on any online search engine, you will find many and various ways in which to do this. My tried and tested method involves an old cast-iron cooking-pot, and, this year at any rate, baffling the neighbours.

As dusk fell on Shrove Tuesday, one of our neighbours stepped out of his kitchen door to be greeted by the sight of me in our garden, crouching over a large pot, from which flames were leaping dramatically. Being a Lancastrian, he was totally unfazed by this turn of events, merely raising his hand in greeting and retreating to his house. Not a word, not a raised eyebrow, not even a quizzical look.

It is probably not a coincidence that, the next day, he caught my husband and gave him a lemon drizzle cake. “The wife’s been baking, and she thought you might like this.” What culinary reputation I may have had has, it seems, gone up in smoke.

 

Grandstand view

OUR unfortunate neighbours have something of a ringside seat when it comes to the happenings in our garden; their houses are built on higher ground than our garden, and two small paces from each of their back doors is the boundary wall, which is shoulder-height on our side but thigh-level on theirs.

One set of neighbours, those nearest to our house, have not been in residence since we moved in, as they are having an extension built. Watching as this rose from the ground, I realised, with some surprise, that, despite theirs being a very old house, the new “wing” included a feature much in evidence in modern urban townhouses and flats: a Juliet balcony. This will undoubtedly give them panoramic views over the valley and on towards Ingleborough in the distance.

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Unfortunately for them, it will also afford them a royal-box experience of not only all the comings and goings in the garden, but also the culinary catastrophes in our kitchen.

Still, as my husband cheerfully pointed out, it may mean more “sympathy” cake for him. It’s just as well that I love him — and that he can run faster than I.

 

Old wives’ tale

I WONDER, though, whether our neighbours will ever be able to have the doors of their Juliet balcony open. It’s a tad chilly for such things in the winter here, and, if last summer is anything to go by, the midges and biting bugs that breed in the boggy land behind us would make having those doors open an unpleasant experience.

I am hoping to reduce the midge numbers by planting some bog myrtle in our garden. My crofting grandmother always put a sprig of bog myrtle on the bridles of her horses during the summer, to ward off the bloodthirsty blighters, and, should you venture into the Highlands, you will find many a small shop stocking midge repellent, which includes bog myrtle in its ingredients.

The only summer that I can recall when I wasn’t seen as a walking buffet by the dreaded midge was the one during which I was on the drug methotrexate for my rheumatoid arthritis. I enjoyed a whole summer of freedom from bites and from any dense black cloud of insects following me around the hills. Sadly, my body hated the methotrexate as much as the midges did; so I had to stop it.

I’m hoping that the bog-myrtle seedlings that I’m nursing through the winter in my polytunnel will give us at least a little respite this summer.

 

Feast for the eyes

THE garden has proved to be popular with wildlife of late. We have had some pretty chilly weather recently, and have been putting out extra grain for the birds to help them survive the wintry blasts. Although we always put the feed up off the ground, inevitably some is knocked off into the grass beneath the bird tables.

You are probably expecting me to say that we have attracted rats. It is quite possible that we have, although, so far, we have not seen any. No, our surprise visitor was a beautiful male pheasant, who strutted confidently into view the other day, announcing his arrival with staccato bravado.

As a child in Scotland, I grew up surrounded by creatures of varying levels of domestication: for a whole year we were visited by a pheasant, and I was convinced that his two-tone call was pheasantese for “Feed me!” And, of course, we did.

I just hope that this magnificent Lancastrian creature does not meet the same fate as his Scottish cousin; “our” pheasant suddenly stopped appearing, and, some weeks later, I discovered that he had been shot by a neighbouring farmer who decided that such a plump bird would make a fine feast.

 

Home cooking

FEASTING is, of course, off the agenda in our household at the moment — apart from Sunday, when we will celebrate Mothering Sunday for what, given her frailty, may well be the last time with my mother.

We also have the added joy that Sons Numbers 2 and 3 will be home from Edinburgh and Germany respectively. Number 3 Son tells me that he doesn’t mind what we eat as long as it’s not Brandopfer. It seems that he’s heard about my ash-making adventures: Brandopfer is German for “burnt offering”.

 

Elizabeth Figg’s husband is the Vicar of Warton and Borwick with Yealand, in Lancashire.

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