Monthly Archives: August 2010

David Wilkie

I have (finally) settled on somebody to do the bulk of the work in my house – he is David Wilkie. Well, no, really he isn’t. As you know, I dub all my tradesmen with the names of artists, the better to understand what my subconscious tells me and the better to refer to the in public.

So for instance, I can now tell you that John Singer Sargent really behaved very badly. Not only did he agree to do the work on my house and the decide he did not want to, but he also failed to tell me. Indeed, he failed to tell me again and again, despite messages left on his phone again and again. In the end I caught him on the hop and found out. Not good enough.

But David Wilkie is I am totally sure, an honest person, and a kindly one. He is a joiner, and I suspect this is bigger than his usual jobs. But he seems sensible, and is very ready to talk things through, accommodate my wishes, and work with me. He is to start very soon which is just as well, as summer is now well on. The first stage will be the installation of a shower-room upstairs, so that I can move up there while everything, but everything comes out downstairs.

If I did not have twice as much to do in September as seems reasonably possible, I would be dancing in the aisles.


Mission is not a numbers game

An interesting conversation after church yesterday with a bloke who usually worships at a small, dying ‘Piskie church.

And we went through the usual perceptions. Firstly, that it is natural for churches to be in decline. It is what we should expect. Except I know it isn’t. I was part of a team which turned round decline in a small church. I was there, it happened.

Secondly that ‘mission’ means ‘getting bums on seats’. Well, it does not. It means being there for others. It means service. Jesus spent all of his years in his active ministry telling his disciples that following him meant service, that the first jolly well ought to be last, and that anybody who thought they were a lord and master ought to find the waiter’s apron and put it on, and ask humbly what the others wanted for dinner – just how likely is it that he would ever, ever, think his church ought to be looking for people to join it in order to help pay the bills? Or for the sake of the institution in any way, shape or form?

Yet so ingrained in this way of thinking that conversations about mission keep on and on coming back to this point. ‘If we do this or that good bit of service, then we will get people to join us.’

And quite likely, yes, we will. Because generally speaking doing the right thing has a way of being attractive at least to some people. But the point of doing the right thing is what it has always been – that we should do the right thing. That we serve others because they need us.

And the point of encouraging others to be part of church? Because it is empowering. Because it keeps one headed in the right direction, the most fulfilling direction. I go to church on a Sunday because I want to, need to. Sometimes I am asked if it is because I feel guilty if I don’t. No, not at all. But I feel empty, or emptier. I feel unfulfilled. And there is absolutely no point in encouraging others to join you in church unless you think that they will feel fuller for going.

So spread the word. Mission has nothing to do with making the church grow (expect in the sense that the new people may well help the church grow in insight and spirituality), and everything to do with helping people grow.

And maybe if we all say it loud and clear, in the end somebody will hear.

The cat crate mother

Today I finally managed to clear out and tidy up the little shed at my front door – it was left full of junk by the retreating former occupiers, and has been on my to do list for 18 months.

The need to do it became urgent, because the little guinea fowl have had to move in there. I had intended putting them in with the chicken, but they are much smaller than I had expected, and they still need heat, which is most easily supplied near the house. They also need supervision (ditto). Now they have an open space, made very safe and easy to clean, the size of my bathroom, or bigger.

I am not a fan of rearing little birds away from their mothers. These babies have come from an incubator, and lack the constant care and teaching a mother bird supplies. She would teach them what to eat, and see they did it regularly. She would keep them warm and warn them of danger. She would protect them, and sell her own life dear if that was all she could do to keep them safe – she would indeed brave a cat or a dog or a mink or me, and fierce broody birds are more to be feared than most things around a smallholding. In time they will learn to care for themselves, but it takes longer than you might think, and there is a vulnerable gap. One of them has already tried eating string, and had to be rescued.

And they feel the lack, more than you might suppose. They need a mother-figure and have decided the cat crate in which they travelled is really their Mum. When tired they rest in it or on it. When worried they hurry back to it.

It isn’t eating meat that upsets me most – not providing a swift end to a life – but this wrenching of things from their natural patterns. Though the keets are, in fact, as cheerful as the heat-lamp is long. But I rejoice to think that in future my baby birds will have a loving mother, and grow faster and more healthily for it.

Ring a ring a memories

So, lunch with my family, and an after-dinner tea with a very dear friend, and the first rumblings of a problem when the sat. nav. denied knowledge of the next port-of-call – the village in Northumbria where my new young guinea fowl were.

However, friend and I eventually persuaded the sat. nav. to accept one form of the address, and I set off. I realised that I was, perhaps, going wrong when it directed me off the main roads as soon as Newcastle began to fall to the east, but the way was delightful, and I went with it. I knew I was heading for a village with two streets, and was dis-chuffed when the sat. nav. deposited me outside a solitary cottage in the middle of moorland with the helpful instruction I had arrived at my destination. Er, no. I entered the form of the address I had first tried, and this time it was recognised and I was taken to the remote village, with unexpectedly formal local authority style housing where my twelve little keets were indeed waiting for me. Some pleasant chat, and they went into a cat crate and we set off. I was a little put out by their being a lot younger than I had expected, an accident having befallen the ones I was anticipating, but all the same glad to have them.

Then the seller kindly directed me on another shorter way back to the main road. At first the sat. nav. was sulky and muttered about unknown roads and U turns, and then it settled down. It told me it was taking me home, and it would have me there at 10 pm. This rather dismayed me, as it was not yet six pm, and I was in Northumbria. And I did not propose using a push bike, either.

However as it took me through lanes of ever-diminishing size, I forgave it. I got out and opened gates, drove through, and got out again and shut them. I saw horses, looking at me in astonishment, and passed over becks, and beside venerable trees of diminutive proportions.

It came vividly to mind my mother would always say: ‘Join the Armstrongs and see the world’ as we got merrily lost. In those days holidays were long and carefree. It is so long since I had any experience of that delightful lack of responsibility – days given over to walking, and eating and laughing. Days beside burns with books, followed by days in ancient monuments with travel-guide books. Days spent fruitlessly searching for missing bits of archaeology, only to find other bits nobody had thought to mention, and always that amazing sense of not really needing to DO anything, and having no timetable – eating if hungry, or just ignoring meal times – finding wonderful small cafes, or village shops, or just as likely, not. Intending to visit a stately home and ending up paddling instead. Laughing at others we met though not (I hope) very unkindly.

I was filled with a great urge to spend time unwinding, but of course I could not. Each bump in the road woke up the keets, and they chirruped to each other to make sure everybody was still making reasonably happy noises and was therefore alright.

And meanwhile the sat. nav. was announcing that due to my inability to achieve 60 pmh on single track roads with regular gates, it would now be 10.30 before I got home. And on and on I went. Alarmingly, the little on-screen map showed the path ahead ending soon. And eventually I understood why. I came to a sign showing – that I was a mile away from the keets home village. The sat. nav. had taken me in a circle. It had taken an hour to do so. Presumably, if I continued to follow its directions, I would go round the same loop again. And again.

I turned round, and at the first opportunity, took a road in another direction. And another, and picked every time a larger road.

Suddenly, the sat. nav. woke up and told me I would now be home at nine thirty. It lied, of course. After a stop for petrol, and what passed for food, it was in fact 10 pm – and I still needed to set up a heat lamp, settle the keets, and feed Martha and Bernadette, before finally heading up to bed.

Time to do something new…

or perhaps not.

Gentle reader, this is neither Martha nor Bernadette, but a Soay sheep. A nice sheep, very willing to be fed. She was at a very well run Farm Park. I was offered a choice of being taken by my daughter and her husband with their twins, my grandchildren, to Fountains Abbey, or to the Farm Park. I opted to go and feed animals and a great time was had by all. I fed some very affable pigs, and some personable sheep, a rather domineering and smelly billy goat. There were also some wallabies, and a lama with amazing eyelashes and a pushy personality. In between times, intent on being a good role model, I washed my hands much much more frequently than I would normally do.

My delightful grandchildren were very brave, and Tabitha especially courageous in having food taken from her hand by the very wet rough tongue of a young heifer. It occurs to me that it is symptomatic of my entire life that I chose to feed animals at some expense – I always do. Still, it is nice to know my choices are at least consistent.

Knowing one’s own

Of course it had to happen. Just before a companion arrived, Martha escaped, and ran, panicking, under the fence and into the shepherd’s flock. They had just been gathered, and were milling around. There must have been about a hundred ewes and their lambs. Most ewes have two lambs. Half of the lambs are Martha’s half-siblings, having the same father.

Martha is a lamb of great sweetness, but my heart sank – would I ever see her in the great, milling, unsettled throng of sheep?

I did – I knew her at once. My own. One unique little sheep even among her relatives. And my neighbour’s children arrived (the wonders of the mobile phone) and managed to get her separated out, and back home, where she continued to call for her lost mother.

But happily another little lamb arrived, in definite need of some TLC, and she, now called Bernadette, and Martha are great friends, and, in the Biblical phrase, the days of Martha’s mourning for her mother are accomplished. It is a new era for my sheep.

Just ordinary

No blog post on here has ever had as many hits as the one of Kenneth and Duncan’s wedding, partly of course because Kelvin linked to it on Inspires on-line. But then he has linked to other of my posts – and never with quite such a specular result.

And I have the feeling that at least some arriving there must have been a tad disappointed. Sure there was more I could have said. The excellence of the trio who played for the occasion might have been remarked on and the fact my little grandchildren, and especially Tabby, were utterly entranced by the live music, demanding ‘More! More! every time they paused. We had sun, and despite my misgivings the flowers I arranged for it were a stonking success with everybody.

And this is just ordinary too. This is the usual stuff of the exciting and unique days of weddings, when people dress up and are happy, and hug and shed happy tears. And, yes, worry over details gone wrong, and then decide they do not matter. And that is the point, really. Just special in the usual way.

Today I took my lap top to show the piccies to the very kind lady in her eighties for whom I clean. I complained that gay couples could not (as yet) actually claim the name of marriage or marry in church. She thought for a bit, and I told her about the vows Kenneth and Duncan had made. She suddenly saw that that was simply what gays wanted – to promise love and faithfulness. Just like everybody. Ordinary.


Dead and gone, lady

Today an era came to an end. The last of Eve’s daughters, and her daughters’ daughters died.
Eve was my first ever sheep – born 18 years ago, a lamb rejected by her mother, who survived many lambhood illnesses to live to ten years old and die surrounded by her flock. I kept her first ewe lamb to be her friend and companion, and she was called Polly Esther. Polly moved here with her daughters Cotton Wool and Cassandra, and last year Cotton got cast in the field and died. This year, I came home one day to find that Cassie could not stand. There followed an emergency call-out of the vet, followed by treatment and hope, always the most painful aspect of serious illness.
Cassie improved, but her back legs remained unable to support her weight. She stayed in a small pen eating hay and comforted by the presence of her foster-lamb Martha. Then on Saturday I found Polly in the field, unable to stand. I will cut the miserable business short. Today the swift merciful end had to be ordered. The last of Eve’s line ended.
But I still have Martha – who is baaing inconsolably for her mother. She cannot be let out yet for fear she wriggles under the fence to seek for her Mum. Death never seems to get easier. All around me are healthy sheep, and the two Martha and I want are dead and gone, lady, dead and gone.
But in the countryside, death is never the end of the story. Presently the shepherd will arrive with another ewe lamb, probably one that has been bottle-fed and is tame, and she will become a companion and playmate for Martha.