Caught in a cross fire
Iwas up at six o’clock on sunday morning, lighting the kitchen range, warming the twins’ clothes in the oven, making porridge and preparing packed lunches. One child was spending the day orienteering; the other watercolour painting en plein air.
I felt like the father in Robert Hayden’s Those Winter Sundays facing the ‘blueblack cold’, who ‘made banked fires blaze’ and ‘polished shoes’ and only called the family ‘when the rooms were warm’. He was never thanked and his son spoke indifferently to him. Much as I spoke to my father when he rose early, lit the kitchen range, warmed my clothes in the oven, made me porridge and prepared my packed lunch.
when I fetched the twins at 8.30am, they were sleepy but appreciative. They didn’t understand, of course, how long I had spent readying everything for them or my emotions as I did so. when I think of the last lines of Hayden’s poem, they always bring a tear to my eye: ‘what did I know, what did I know/ of love’s austere and lonely offices?’
S‘Oliver told jokes and sang songs: “Love me tinder, love me true”’
omething else brought a tear to my eye on sunday and put an end to the orienteering and art plans, too. smoke. Huge, black, billowing clouds of it. It began innocently enough. The clear, crisp, icy air carried the very slightest hint of burnt wood, sweet and almost floral. I thought perhaps it was a bonfire. when I walked up behind the house, however, I saw I was much mistaken.
The hill was ablaze, not with friendly fire, but cross fire. If we had been at home (renovations are still ongoing), rather than in a rented house, I would never have called the Fire Brigade, for it is my fervent hope that an accidental conflagration will reduce our property to ashes. also, ratting on neighbours who have allowed their burning off to get out of hand is, as every country dweller knows, the stuff of feuds.
There being no prospect of a massive insurance claim and no fear of a vendetta, I summoned assistance. I trust the farmer copped it. Burning off gorse kills wildlife, destroys biodiversity and rarely improves the soil. It is an outdated, disproven practice that ought to be completely banned.
As we admired the flames, Oliver, 12, told jokes (‘why was the firewood punished? Because it was knotty’), sang songs (‘Love me tinder, love me true’) and pointed out that, it being the Feast of Purification, aka (he throws aka into a lot of his conversations at the moment) Candlemas, with its light/candle motif, what could be more appropriate than a roaring inferno?
It is a rather busy time in the religious calendar, for several important saints’ days and three pagan festivals concerned with cleansing and spring—lupercalia, Imbolc and Februalia (after which the month is named)— fall, more or less, this week.
My personal favourite is Lupercalia, during which the ancient Romans used to run around the streets naked (unless you count dog or goat masks), a sight I imagine was well worth seeing. st Blase (one of the duller saints, associated with candles and sore throats) has his feast day now. He is the patron saint of veterinarians, to whom we should pray if we want to ease the suffering of an animal.
We could benefit from st Blase’s intervention at the moment. Bird flu, which has arrived in the UK, is a nasty disease, which not only causes terrible suffering in its avian victims, but can mutate and infect humans. It is spread both by wild birds—it has so far claimed wigeons, peregrine falcons, geese, gulls, cormorants, mute swans and a buzzard—as well as by farmed birds, especially chickens, hence Defra’s instructions to keep fowl inside. Interestingly, the potential risk has received little media coverage.
I wouldn’t be aware of it myself if the raw dog-food company I helped to start wasn’t in something of a quandary. we won’t, as a matter of principle, use intensively reared or foreign meat. This means that if Defra’s housing order is extended beyond this month we will have to drop several recipes. Heaven knows what our producers, especially the smaller, family-run farms, will do.
st Brigid, whose feast day was February 1, is the patron saint of poultry farmers. I feel that a prayer to her is in order.