“LOOK up to your left, index finger on your cheek. . . Look puzzled” — my husband did as I asked — “Look up to your right, swap index fingers and cheeks, still looking puzzled,” I went on, and he complied. “Good, now look directly into the camera: big smile, and a huge star-jump.” Again, my husband followed the instructions. “Great! Ready for a take? Five, four. . . ”
What were we up to? That is probably what the people working on the allotments next to the house were wondering, too. During lockdown, my husband could not go into school for collective worship; so, every week, we recorded a session and sent it to our fantastic church school in Yealand, to be shown in school and sent out to those learning at home.
Each session included an action song; the children in school could not sing, but enjoyed doing the actions, while those at home sang and danced along. It was great fun for everyone, although, as my husband will tell you, star-jumps are exhausting.
Now that everyone is back in school, my husband is once again leading collective worship in person, and Fennell, Fincher, Chao, et al. have nothing to worry about in the forthcoming Oscars: I have hung up my directorial bossy-boots — for now.
WE CONTINUE to live-stream a Sunday service, though; so I am still spending time preparing liturgical response screens, planning the music (made easier by the talented folk at St Martin-in-the-Fields — thank you!), and producing a hymn lyric video for each service.
This is what I was doing one Tuesday recently, eyes screwed up in concentration, trying to time the appearance of the lyrics on screen with the singing of St Martin’s Voices. The day was like a child’s painting of spring: vivid blue sky, verdant grass, and early daffodils swaying in the fresh, easterly breeze that conspired with the sun to scatter diamonds over the floodwater still lying in the fields, each little gust throwing up dazzling points of light from the ripples in the water.
I had opened all the windows to allow the breeze to blow through the house, and was concentrating on my screen, when I became aware of an unexpected sound. Above the birdsong and general noise drifted the distant rise and fall of a civil-defence siren.
As we live near a nuclear power station, and just over the water from a shipyard specialising in nuclear submarines, it was a troubling sound. Then came a muffled “carrumph”, and an ever-so-slight tremor that did nothing for my state of mind, until, with the sound of a steady “all-clear” siren, realisation dawned: the same easterly breeze that had so delighted me had carried with it the sound of the blast siren from the quarry near by.
I was relieved, but puzzled as — although I have heard and felt the blasts before — I had never been aware of the siren. It later emerged that this was a new, louder siren, and had caused alarm over a considerable area: some assumed that we were under attack, and others, like me, worried about our nuclear neighbours. Now, the siren has become just another part of the soundscape of my life, although I much prefer the raucous squabbling of our resident sparrows.
WE ARE blessed with a good variety of wild birds who visit the garden, bringing with them colour, life, and music. Unfortunately, last autumn, DEFRA warned that they could also be bringing a highly pathogenic variety of avian influenza. Since December, an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) has been in place in England, and no domestic poultry are allowed to roam outside.
As her last “sister” died just before Covid struck, foiling our plans to renew the flock, our sweet old hen Clarrie has since been in solitary confinement in a covered run in the garden. I am hoping that, as the weather warms and we all emerge from our Covid confinement, Clarrie and all her fellow chooks may soon be free, too.
Meanwhile, on sunny days, our dog can often be found dozing near the run, head lifting attentively whenever Clarrie clucks and cackles in her enclosure — for all the world, like two old friends enjoying a natter.
Hares and tortoises
I IMAGINE that we are all looking forward to some in-person nattering. Zoom, etc., have been helpful in maintaining connections, but there is nothing like sharing the same space as someone else for finding out how they really are; for delving below the bright, “Me? Oh, I’m fine!”
Much has been said about the detrimental effects of lockdown on mental health, but many may find returning to “normal” life difficult and stressful. Number One Son told me that, when he was climbing Kilimanjaro to raise money for our local hospice in memory of his cousin, the porters would call out, “Pole, pole” to the climbers — even those who were not struggling. It meant, “Slowly, slowly.” Those who followed the advice completed the climb. Let those who have ears, hear.
FINALLY, thank you to everyone who contacted me about our howling hound: you are all so kind. She is now absolutely fine, and was the star of my husband’s collective-worship videos; the children missed her so much that I put together a brief film of some of her “contributions” to the worship (see “Warton, Borwick, Yealand, Zoe” on YouTube). Happy Easter, everyone, and remember — “Pole, pole.”
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.