Great-Uncle Vasily & Friends, c.1910

Great-Uncle Vasily & Friends, c.1910
Justin at The Tar Baby Festival, Horncastle 2009

Wednesday, 24 December 2003

Christmas Newsletter 2003

Dear Distant Kin or Absent Friend,

Well, here we are again - all another year older. What a year we’ve had!

January – We have a new priest at St Martin's, a Mr Benworth. Old Mr Theddlethorpe retired after 53 years’ ministry in the parish. He was never the same after the mince pie episode at the Millennium Carol Service, when I dusted the pies with what I’d thought was icing sugar but which turned out to be one of Xavier’s medicinal powders. You may remember the choir all started giggling and Mr Theddlethorpe, who ate several mince pies, thought his trousers were full of light and took them off to show everyone, poor man. Then he tried to get up the great hall chimney because he said he could see the Star of Bethlehem. He’s gone to his niece in Skegness for a well-earned rest.

Fr Benworth has revived the Plough Monday Mass and Almsgiving Procession at St Martin’s. I don’t think we’ve had one since 1547. It was very well-attended, and Mr Benworth blessed all the ploughs and tractors before they drove in procession around the village, singing for largesse and daring the householders to take the consequences of not giving them anything. Nearly £35,000 was collected, which is not really as surprising as it sounds because no-one wants their front gardens ploughed up. I like Mr Benworth. He is an unusual blend of traditionalist and entrepreneur, and could certainly teach some of the Countryside Alliance groups a thing or two about fund-raising.

February – We had a total power failure. Something had gnawed all the insulation off the cables in the main generator fuse-box in the Moat House. It seems to have been home to a colony of feral hamsters for a number of years – which is odd, as none of the children has ever had a hamster. But why do they always strip away wiring insulation? Roberta said perhaps they simply forage materials to make repairs on their spacecraft, and that we should look for a tiny crash-crater nearby. It would explain a lot about hamsters in general, and ours in particular.

March - We heard that Julia’s battalion took a town in Southern Iraq on the 19th. It’s all rather worrying, because the news said they’d taken it again on the 21st, on the 23rd, and again on the 25th. The BBC is getting dreadful for showing repeats. Then on the 28th we actually saw her on television, in a command post. They were all wearing gas-masks but you could tell it was Julia because she was the only officer carrying a hockey-stick.

April – Busy packing Cetchewayo’s paintings for an exhibition in New York. They do know he’s a gorilla, I suppose? Cetchewayo insisted on helping, so it took weeks. He has a fascination with bubble wrap, popping the little blisters the way that allegedly more intelligent humans do, for hours on end.

May – One morning I found Cetchewayo in Roger’s study, hunched over the computer. He was fascinated by a screen full of what looked just like little plastic bubbles. You click on a bubble with the mouse and it pops, just like the real thing only not so wasteful. It turned out that the twins had logged him onto a website called – would you believe it? Well, it keeps him quiet so that we can finish packing his paintings in peace. A few days later Justin hired a gorilla suit and logged onto the Tate Gallery online, and I actually thought for a minute it was really Cetchewayo. It would have been quite a good joke I suppose, but at that moment Cetchewayo shambled into the room, no doubt looking forward to a few hours’ virtual bubble-popping. He went into a perfect fit of rage at seeing what appeared to be another gorilla seated at Roger’s Apple Macintosh. Justin was rushed to hospital and I’m glad to say is as well as can be expected.

June – Cetchewayo has been shortlisted for the Turner Prize this year. Dear Aunt Lavinia is so proud.

July – We decided not to get rid of Rebecca’s camel after all. She was off her feed for a while and terribly moody, so the twins went and got her a boyfriend. As soon as she was lactating – we might have known – Uncle Igor simply couldn’t resist milking her to make shu’bat, which he tells me from his days out East is the ancestor of what we call sherbet today. Well, it’s fizzy but there the resemblance ends. Imagine a caffe latte made with double cream yoghurt which bubbles and is alcoholic, and doesn’t taste of coffee so much as those Norwegian goat cheeses you can pick up at Fortnum’s. Justin suggested offering some to the new Iraqi deputy finance minister, who stopped off with Charles and Xavier on their way to Baghdad - but he’s very Westernised and prefers Scotch and Diet Coke (together, unfortunately). Roger nearly went ballistic when he mixed himself a large one with ice, a twist of lemon and a 20-year-old Deanston. I told Roger that you have to be patient with foreigners who are struggling to copy our ways.

August – Some Americans – the Wrenshore Society - have been in touch, claiming kinship. They say they are descended from a Mr Obadiah and a Mrs Rejoice-In-The-Lord’s-Election Wrenshore, who went over from Boston in 1678. I confess I would have preferred some good Maryland Catholics, but we must be content with what we can get. I always thought we came from a Tadeusz Hrenszaw, a Lithuanian shipwright and drinking companion of Peter the Great. I really must do some research of my own. Perhaps we can host a Clan Gathering next year – Americans all seem to like that sort of thing. It might even make us some money, which farming certainly doesn’t.

September - Roger is looking at DEFRA grants for a wind farm. Not that we want a forest of those horrid propellers on masts, you understand – nothing of the sort. Roger reckons our Frisian herd produces enough methane to light up most of Kesteven.

October – It hasn’t rained for 22 weeks now. The only person we know who is at all pleased about this is Uncle Igor, who says the beet mash is yielding a specific gravity several points higher than usual, because of the high sugar level due to the reduced water content of the beet.

November - To Horncastle with the Mink Hounds for Declaration Day. Lately, no Animal Righters have bothered the Hunt. Perhaps they think that with the new legislation it’s all in the bag – anyway, the Louth branch of the League Against Cruel Sports have turned their attention to the bloodthirsty depravity of angling. They’re picketing the fish and chip shop. I ask you! Perhaps they hope one day to see, when all right-thinking people will be Vegans and the rest of us in prison, the waters of the River Bain full once more of innocent cod and haddock, frolicking free from molestation.

The Horncastle Tar Baby Night was great fun as usual. The Fire Brigade were out in force. It’s impossible to insure the event these days, so it was just as well that the only place that burned down this year was the Fire Station. It turned out that one of the firemen had left a chip pan on the stove.

What a splendid Rugby World Cup Final! After 37 years of boredom watching the Australians win year after year, it seems as if absolutely everyone thought it was time for a change (except the Australians, of course). On television you could see people supporting England everywhere – even in the Republic of Georgia, where they were having a revolution, the TV news showed the streets of Tblisi were packed with cheering people waving England flags.

I am disappointed in the Reverend Mr Benworth: he has decided to have an Anthony Trollope Carol Service on Advent Sunday to get us all in the Christmas spirit, with everyone dressed up as characters from Trollope’s novels, with drifts of polystyrene snow and lanterns on sticks and the local TV present. No doubt there will be fast food trailers manned by mob-capped creatures selling their Dunkin’ Do-Nuts repackaged as Mrs Miggins’ Figgy Muffins. I have to say it all sounds absolutely ghastly.

December - I must say I misjudged Mr Benworth. It was a wonderful event. Everyone joined in with spirit. Uncle Igor dressed up as Mr Harrison, Olivia and Robert as Sergeant Troy and Bathsheba (though I’m not sure who was which), Roger went as Silas Marner, Mr Wragby as Rupert of Hentzau and Wilhelmina as Daisy Miller. The twins were the Hound of the Baskervilles and the Beckings managed to represent every single member of the Forsyte family. I went as Becky Sharp, and so did half the WI, but apart from that little unpleasantness it was all tremendous fun and I’m just amazed at how well-read we all are as a community here. Oscar was Ivanhoe, and Julia, on home leave, made a splendid Flashman. As it was advertised in the diocesan magazine last month, people came from miles around to see it and take part.

Uncle Igor’s mulled beetroot and cranberry Merlot went down very well. Good job there were plenty of polystyrene granules on the ground, for those unused to the punch it delivers. Tamsin is looking at a way of binding the polystyrene granules together so they can be thrown like snowballs which break up on impact. It could be a saleable, all-the-year-round novelty, especially as Christmas seems to come upon us earlier every year and it almost never snows in Lincolnshire until January. Next year I can see all the little grinning urchin chimney-sweeps at the Trollope Yuletide Festival styrene-balling the top hats off the heads of the kindly old gentlemen. The media will love it.

Justin turned up kitted out as Bill Sykes, and caused havoc up on the church roof with a surplus tar baby which was supposed to be the kidnapped Tiny Tim from the tense last chapter of The Water Babies, the bit when the police are hunting him after he murders Little Nell. One waggish literatus in the crowd shouted out: “Fifty pounds for the boy!”, and several of the lads just coming out of The Three Legged Mare took him at his word. Fortunately Justin had roped himself to a stone angel on the tower. Unfortunately the angel was only held in place by cobwebs and gravity – so there’s now a lovely photograph of an airborne praying stone angel, Bill Sykes and a tar baby all roped together in mid-air, on our website at Justin was rushed to hospital and is doing as well as can be expected.

All through Advent the Horseless Headsman has been seen wandering around the ruins in Boggart’s Copse, beckoning, so it’s sure to mean interesting times in the year ahead. Let’s hope we all survive to see another Newsletter!

Best wishes from all the Kirov-Renshaws,

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