Great-Uncle Vasily & Friends, c.1910

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

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Newsletter 2009

Dear Distant Kin or Absent Friend,

What a year it’s been for all of us! Money worries for everyone, so many poor folk struggling even to keep a roof over their heads. Christmas Day is, of course, for us, Rent Day. The lordship of the manor of Sotby confers an obligation in fee entail to present to the monarch, as represented by the Lord Lieutenant of the County of Lincoln, by way of yearly rental on Christmas Day, a brace of red-legged partridges and a pair of yellow hose. It goes back to the time of Edward II, who was famous for thinking up silly inconveniences like that. Well, getting the partridges is no problem – we simply pick them up from our beet fields, but these days as far as the hose are concerned we make do with a pair of ballet tights from a dancewear suppliers. In case you are wondering what the Lord Lieutenant does with them, he wears them at the Boxing Day Drag Hunt. They go well with his saffron ballgown, in which he never rides sidesaddle. Somehow I think Edward II would have approved.

Finally Roger and I decided to get Uncle Igor a mobile phone for Christmas, so we can at least use it to wake him up when he falls asleep in department store windows in Louth. I got Asprey’s to make an attachment for Great-Uncle Vasily’s silver cigar-case (that's Great-Uncle Vasily on the main page, by the way) so he can keep the phone safe inside and hang it on his watch-chain and put it in his other waistcoat pocket. Justin even downloaded “Sche ne vmerla Ukraina” as a ringtone. Uncle always rises to his feet when it’s played, even if semi-conscious, so now we should be able to locate him anywhere. We tried it out after dinner when he was dozing off in Mr Obama’s senate chair, so we know it works. The only downside is that Uncle insists on singing all of it once it’s started, and at six and a half minutes it’s the longest national anthem in the world. Anyone who’s coming to stay with us this year can learn how it goes, and sing along with Uncle Igor, at

and the words at

Go on - he’ll be ever so pleased! He may even break out a bottle of his artichoke horilka (God knows the rest of us would like to see it finished).

January – Despite the grim economic outlook, our hedge fund continues to do well. We have 500 blackthorn, 300 hazel, 85 field maple and a dozen beech, so far. By March we should have enough to stop the wind blowing our top-dressing across Old Hundred, Gibbet Piece and Cromwell’s Bottom. Meanwhile, our new wind-turbines are up and running now but at 4am one morning we were all woken up by an enormous Clang! and several neighbours said they saw bright orange lights in the sky with tentacles dangling from them. At dawn we went out to look and one of the rotors had two of its three blades very badly bent, but there was no debris around, so Lord knows what hit it. Roger’s explanation is that it was one of those low-flying Taranis stealth bombers we aren’t supposed to know anything about. Justin very sarcastically said that a bright orange stealth bomber with tentacles that bumped into things in the night was so subtle no-one would ever suspect that was precisely what it was. Meanwhile, Tamsin is refusing to answer questions about the Cthulhu Christmas illumination she made last year, and what she has done with it. The Ministry of Defence say they are not investigating the matter, which is rather worrying because it means that is exactly what they are doing. The sooner Tamsin goes back to Oxford, the happier I shall be. The nice thing about January was that, at the Opening of Parliament, Humphrey took his well-deserved seat in the House of Lords. Well done again, Bunnykin!

February – What with all the wheat fetching premium prices for biofuel, we thought last year we’d try and make a maximum return on the cereal crunch, coming and going. It started because we had 110 acres down to lentils for Tesco’s, and then they changed their minds on us, leaving us with a bit of a problem. We tried adding lentils to the ‘Lincolnshire Poacher’ beer mash to reduce the wheat content, so we’d have more grain to sell for biofuel, only it made the beer so cloudy it couldn’t be cold-filtered out. Then Uncle lgor tried distilling some to see if that worked as biofuel, but it doesn’t have the necessary sugars unless you sprout the lentils first. That was fine until the carybaras got into the malting-floor and scoffed the lot - they love lentil sprouts. But that gave Justin an idea. By heat-treating the remaining, de-sprouted lentils (which taste sweet, like malt) so they exploded like popcorn, then spraying them with chocolate milkshake, they are almost indistinguishable from a certain well-known breakfast cereal. We had invented the breakfast pulse. Advertised as ‘Choco-Lenties, the low-fat, high-fibre puffed lentils in a chocolate coat, all-natural country goodness, right down to the last crunch, with a chocolate capybara in every pack’. We spent a fortune on an ad. with Anglia TV, showing our capybaras paddling around in the brewery mash-tun full of the stuff, apparently singing ‘Guantanamera’ and ‘Carmen Capybara’ (it was Ernesto, really, he’s the most intelligent of the whole bunch) telling you “Ay, Ay! They’re Choco-Lentil-icious!”. The whole venture seemed so promising until Wetland World at Louth heard about it, and had the cheek to demand royalty payments for the capybaras, who, they insisted, were their property. So we put in a counter-claim for eighteen months’ feed, accommodation and veterinary bills. An out-of-court, no-score draw, so now we’re having a go at Choco-Dal Crocodile in India. “Be seeing you later, Ali Gator!”, he shouts to his amphibian chum in the Ganges, since he’s too busy chomping his breakfast bowlful of Choco-Dal to go and play just yet. But when he does, he’ll have all the energy he needs to… well, you get the idea. The things one has to do to make a profit out of farming, these days. What a crazy, crazy world we live in!

March – April –A rare letter from Julia, saying she’s with the Legion’s Deuxième Régiment des Parachutistes in Afghanistan. One of her old Roedean chums has joined the same unit, under the name of Karl, so that will be lovely for them both. I almost feel sorry for the Taliban. Her all-legionnaire rock band, ‘Feuerfeucht’, have made a new video and you can watch it here:

(that’s Julia and Karl on vocals, by the way). Julia says that German is such a pretty language to sing in. Can’t say I agree, but Uncle Igor loves the video. Says it reminds him of the old days before he came to England.

May – After all the terrible fuss about Parliamentary expenses, poor Humphrey has had to pay for the capybara house on the moat and the restoration of the bell tower out of his own pocket. Really I had no idea we were down as his second home address. He said it was to allow him to be closer to London, which of course it is, much closer than his estate in Cumberland.

June – Our Longwool tup Bertram (get it?) came second at the County Agricultural Show, with his ‘Andy Renwick’s Ferret’ dance medley. The Twins had worked really hard with him ever since last show. He would have come first, but spoiled it all at the last minute by mounting one of the judges’ Old English Sheepdog bitch. Well, they do look like Longwools, don’t they?

July – When Sammy, one of our Tamworth barrows, went for this year’s breakfasts last year, Justin borrowed some of Aunt Eudoxia’s rather wobbly rejected ethnic pots from her night school pottery class, filled them with the burnt bones and buried them for a few months. Then he took them along to the pagan moot in Lincoln and put them down on a table, saying he’d been “ploughing over one o’ them lil’ hills on th’ farm” and that these had turned up, so here they were, he couldn’t be arsed to take them to the County Archaeology Unit so they could have them for honouring as their sp[iritual ancestors, and re-cremate them, because he’d heard that’s what they wanted to do with prehistoric remains. He said their faces were a picture. Honestly, one of these days Justin is going to take one of his practical jokes too far.

August – I’ve been busy giving Tamiflu to our Tamworths because they seemed very listless and off their grub. All DEFRA had to say was they usually respond to supportive treatment, so keep them warm and give them plenty to drink and the chances are they won’t die. Can you imagine what a riot there would be if the Health Minister had said that? So, since the government are spending millions on over-producing flu vaccines this summer I thought they might as well have some even if we didn’t need it. As it turned out, thank goodness, they were all right as rain once the effects of eating our cider pressings wore off.

September - Old Mrs Sausthorpe got her honorary Doctorate in Finance and Business Economics at the University of Kesteven, and we all went along for the ceremony. We are all so proud of Nanny. She’s taken a very nice retainer from Kleinwort Benson and the nursing home in Ingoldmells now lets her have as many snails in her bedroom as she wants. The tea-leaf readings are for short-range forecasts only, you see: the snails, she says, tell her what the futures markets will be doing next year.

October – A canvasser for the British National Party called, so I invited him in to talk to Uncle Igor because there was no-one else at home and I was busy making plum brandy bread for Tar Baby Night. It wasn’t long before, looking out of the kitchen window, I saw him running away through the walled garden with Uncle in pursuit, shouting uncomplimentary things after him concerning his views on East European agricultural workers. After all, he was one, during the War. Then he collided with a group of our seasonal workers from Byelarus grading carrots and it was ages before they, and Igor, let him go. Poor man, I couldn’t do a thing for him with my hands in the pudding basin. I’ve sent some flowers to the Infirmary, though.

November – Uncle Juan hinted that a Papal visit to Britain is on His Holiness’ itinerary for next year, so we have a few months to redecorate. We are all thrilled to bits. Except Uncle Igor, who we haven’t told.

December – I don’t know who packed up the Christmas tree lights last year, but when I came to unpack them again to redecorate the tree this year, they were all knotted up in a hopeless tangle. Uncle Juan saw me trying to sort them all out on my knees on the floor, then came and knelt down beside me to help. At his suggestion we said the Rosary together, bulb by bulb, and offered it up as an Advent penance. He is such a dear man.

Well, that’s about all for another year. The little lights Mr Benniwell saw on the Fen last Tuesday night that he swore were corpse-candles, or will-o-the-wisps (“Boggan Tapers on the Fen, foretell the deaths of many men”) turned out to be a disappointment, because Mrs Wragby our neighbour has installed some silly electric mushrooms in her garden, which she evidently thinks enhance the gnomes and other twee concrete statuary amongst the barbecue detritus and tractor spares. But this evening he says the monks of Minting Priory have been heard chanting Vespers, and as he quotes, with that appalling memory of his, from the Prophecies of Old Mother Hemingby: “When Minting’s monks sing Evensong, there shall be michel grief and wrong.” All I can say is, it can’t get much worse. At least, not because of that. Justin has just come in and plonked his portable CD player and collection of Gregorian chant albums down on the kitchen table where I’m writing this, with an evil grin on his face. So all I can say to that is, the omens are that Christmas and the year to come will be nowhere near as wretched as one might have expected. At any rate, let’s hope so! Love from us all, to all of you…

As ever,

Anastasia XX.

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