Warts and all
WE ALL need at least one friend who knows us well enough to gauge when sympathy is needed or when gentle humour is the best remedy. After Christmas, I was Zooming with an old comrade-in-arms, someone with whom I shared many an adventure and many a rough ferry crossing when we were both stationed in Germany.
Neither of us has particularly good sea-legs, and, on stormy crossings, we could usually be found huddled on the rain-lashed deck, eyes fixed on the horizon as we tried to quell the churning in our stomachs, which perfectly matched the churning of the sea.
Anyway, we had spent a happy half-hour swapping family news when she asked, “What about you? How are you?” I was about to say, “I’m fine,” when I realised that I wasn’t, not really. I won’t bore you with details; suffice to say that, during Advent, I had to keep my eyes very firmly on the promise of Christmas on the horizon to cope with an exhaustingly tempestuous time.
I plumped for honesty, “I’m feeling a bit flat, actually.” There was a pause on the line and then a chuckle, “Flat? Elizabeth Mary Figg, I’ve seen you in a swimsuit, and flat is not the word that comes to mind!” As a counselling technique, such apparent insensitivity cannot be recommended; however, the shared laughter that ensued was heartfelt and cathartic. I slept better that night than I had in weeks.
UNFORTUNATELY, the same cannot be said of our dog. She has taken to waking up howling: not loud, wolf-baying-at-the-moon howling, but a soft, low, mournful lament. The first time I woke to the sound, it gave me what my mother would have described as “the heebie-jeebies” — not quite “the screaming habdabs”, but close.
Steeling myself to leave the safety of our bed, I crept downstairs, telling myself that she was having a bad dream. When I got to her, however, she was wide awake and shaking. My next thought was that she was unwell; so I spent the rest of the night with her, snuggled up together by the dying embers of the fire. She awoke the next day, full of beans and ready for anything; I, however, was somewhat less energetic.
I confess that now, when she howls, I move her bed into our room. This is not an altogether popular move with my husband, who suggested that the dog was adept at training me. That may be true, but, as I explained to him, he (being somewhat deaf) does not hear the howling, and he must either have her upstairs with us and, therefore, quiet or suffer the consequences: a cranky, sleep-deprived wife. He agreed that there was no contest.
THE vicarage in which we live is old (13th-century in parts), with a cellar running beneath the entire building. Being mostly subterranean, the cellar is prone to damp; to keep the mould in check, we have dehumidifiers running constantly in several of its rooms. They fill quickly: normally, we empty them once a day to keep them operating, but, with all the recent rain, this has risen to twice daily.
I am told that Geoffrey Clarke RA — one of the post-war “Geometry of Fear” artists — spent some time living in the cellar; I hope the incumbent at the time let him live in the vicarage and merely use the cellar as a workspace, but perhaps it was a rather pleasanter place in those days.
Clarke was a talented sculptor and stained-glass artist, perhaps most famous for the Cross of Nails and Crown of Thorns in Coventry Cathedral; but he also produced (among many other works) three of the ten glorious stained-glass windows in the nave of the same cathedral.
Should you ever visit the ruins of Warton Old Rectory (English Heritage, free entry) just behind the vicarage, do pause as you approach the ruins and look underneath the laurel bushes to your left. There, lying among the leaves, you will see an old stone gatepost; closer inspection will reveal carvings made by Clarke during his time in Warton. Most people will never notice them, which seems a pity.
ALL the rain has brought some not altogether welcome visitors to our garden. With the fields behind the house flooded, the local mole population seems to have set up camp in our vegetable patch: every time I venture out, fresh heaps of soil have appeared. There is, of course, an upside to their constant digging in that they are turning over the soil much more efficiently than I can. I’m loath to do much about them at the moment — after all, who can blame them for fleeing the flooding?
YESTERDAY, I opened the door to find an oddly-shaped, A4-sized parcel in the porch. Opening it, I found a single sheet of plain paper, protected from creasing by a layer of cardboard. Also in the parcel was a small box and a note which read, “Take heart, even flat things can be made beautiful in the hands of our Creator.”
Inside the box was an origami dove: a reminder from a dear friend that, whether feeling flat or flying high, we are in the hands of a loving God — something for us all to bear in mind as we navigate the choppy waters that may yet lie ahead.
Elizabeth Figg is an ex-QARANC officer, nurse, and midwife, now working as a freelance writer. Her husband is a vicar in the diocese of Blackburn.