Great-Uncle Vasily & Friends, c.1910

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

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Christmas Newsletter 2010

New Year’s Eve, 2010-11

Dear Distant Kin or Absent Friend,

As you can see, I’m dreadfully late with the family newsletter this year (or last year, now). So much has been going on of late, we haven’t even sent Christmas cards to most of you, so here - at Justin’s suggestion - are our season’s greetings for Chinese New Year. We look back on the old year with mixed feelings - it’s been such a roller-coaster…

January – Brrrrr! What a chilly one it was to see the new year in! Roger, Justin and the twins were busy gritting the lanes around the farm with used capybara litter, because everyone ran out of road grit after a week on the cold snap, and in any case the Council won’t ever do minor roads. We couldn’t get the beet up – it was all frozen to the ground. Filling the sprayer with horilko and trying to set the fields alight was not one of Uncle Igor’s better ideas.

February – You may remember that, the year before last when Cetchewayo was disappointed in not being chosen for the drummer in the TV commercial, he made a huge impasto silver, purple and (mostly) brown painting which Justin tells me is called ‘Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Is Shit’? Well now, after the takeover by Kraft Foods put so many out of work, the trade union ‘Unite’ bought it for their pension fund. And they have also asked for a copy to be sent to the factory in Poland where all the work is now being outsourced. With the title gouged into the deeper, browner bits in Polish so they will be sure to get the point.

March – Poor Humphrey had had to stand down in his constituency after the business claiming MP’s second home expenses on the moat maintenance and he tells me that, as if all this wasn’t enough, they are prosecuting him. He says he will be claiming Legal Aid.

April – I find Uncle Igor has put himself on Facebook. Even worse, he seems to have found some American woman from Kansas who wants to come over here and marry him. If we could only persuade him to go out there instead, I’m sure he’d fit in quite well, especially since he has taken to shooting at people he doesn’t like. We have had to persuade election canvassers from the Labour, UK Independence and British National Parties that Igor is wassailing the sugar-beet. In the end, we had to substitute blank cartridges when it went on for more than a week, and the notion of an Octave of Beet-Wassail seems somehow to lack credibility - even to Protestants.

May – What a terrible mess this election has been! Uncle Igor got really cross when he went to Horncastle to vote and was then told that he wasn’t allowed to - even though he’d been queueing for three-quarters of an hour. Apparently there weren’t enough ballot papers available, they didn’t order enough and they ran out at three in the afternoon. It’s hard to know exactly what happened afterward but I understand Uncle Igor led a group of similarly disaffected people into barricading themselves inside the polling station, refusing to leave or to release the poll officers, the two attendant policemen and the ballot boxes, until police reinforcements arrived. I did bail him out the following morning (as if the election result alone wasn’t bad enough to wake up to), and lectured him all the way home.

June - Igor pleaded Not Guilty of causing affray at Sleaford Magistrates’ Court. He got off with an Antisocial Behaviour Order. He must be the oldest person in Britain to have an ASBO. Igor is now convinced Britain is no longer a democracy, because (he keeps asking) how can wanting to vote be anti-social? I explained to him for the umpteenth time the difference between representative democracy and participative democracy is that the one is our cherished way of life that we fought a world war twice over for, while the other is what they do in France, and is illegal here.

July – As if Igor on Facebook weren’t enough, I find that Tamsin and Charles are both on the thing as well – and arguing with each other, and the dreadful American woman. Sooo relieved to find it’s all off between her and Igor now, though, because she’s a Protestant and Igor is quite insistent that she must be re-baptised as a Catholic (thank Heaven). I must try and set him up on one of those internet dating websites - I assume there’s one out there for Catholics, somewhere.

August – Monsignor Marini, the Papal Master of Ceremonies and his three assistants were here with Monsignor Summersgill, the Papal Visit Co-Ordinator, and Uncle Juan, to brief Tamsin on receiving her Order of Saint Gregory the Great. It turns out that there are not enough tickets for the beatification of Cardinal Newman in Birmingham, because they have worked out the numbers from weekly averages of those attending Mass – which is a bit like ordering only as many ballot papers as there were people who could be bothered to vote last time. Tamsin said she’d be just as happy with a tee-shirt with the Order printed on it and besides, there wasn’t much point since she’d regained her atheism again despite her refutation of Richard Dawkins, which she says she still stands by. That meant the redecorating was all for nothing, since His Holiness will not now be staying with us, and Tamsin will not be getting the Order. Tamsin was so argumentative about the whole thing it was easier for us all to settle down together and watch the Vatican censors’ preview of Harry Potter e i Doni della Morte, kindly brought over by Juan, with English subtitles, and which we all enjoyed no end. I expect most of you have also seen it by now.

September - Tamsin says she discovered, whilst working at the Max Planck Institute for a few days to research the chapter of her doctoral thesis entitled Die Strukturanalysen Hauptsätze der Thermodynamik In Anorganische Chemie, a large consignment of laboratory coats marked ‘XXL’ , but barely big enough to fit a small child. Poor girl, she was genuinely concerned that the Institute may be manufacturing Affenklonarbeiter (or Oompah-Loompahs, as Justin called them (until she hit him with a Heart Speaks Unto Heart commemorative paperweight we had to console ourselves with instead of the Order Of St Gregory). Igor missed the whole Papal visit entirely, I’m glad to say, having decided to canalize his romantic disappointment by working on his memoirs instead.

October – All about Tamsin again, I’m afraid: She wants to play Fives for Bolingbroke, but since the only schools who send players to Oxford and Cambridge are Winchester, Eton, Harrow and St Paul’s, and these are of course all boys’ schools, it effectively means girls cannot compete: Tamsin says this is wrong, a clear infringement of the European Convention on Human Rights, and even though both the college and the university would jump at the chance to win at something for a change, they won’t change the rules without a judicial review in the High Court of Appeal, with subsequent appeal (if there is a Cambridge majority on the bench) to the Supreme Court and (again, if Oxford alumni are outnumbered by Old Cantabrigian judges) a final appeal to the Strasbourg court of Justice, which of course is higher than the UK Supreme Court - so she has had to personate a male student again, just as she did to satisfy Bolingbroke’s medieval entry requirements. Well, it’s one thing to pay her tuition fees, but quite another to pay for the litigation with no guarantee of award of costs if successful. Accordingly, she has exchanged places with an undergrad. from St Paul’s, who is eligible but who speaks only Russian. She’s nearly on top of the irregular instrumental and prepositional declensions now, and says she’s doing fine on two hours’ sleep a night.

November – Splendid news! We’ve been invited to The Wedding next year! Roger is less than enthusiastic about the expense. Justin suggested selling Wilhelmina for spare parts on EBay but it seems she was listening and we haven’t seen her since. We’ve tried to tempt her out from any number of possible hiding-places by leaving bread-and-butter pudding out, and it does disappear, but we suspect Hermione and the capybaras tend to get to it first.

December – Poor Bunnykin! Sir Humphrey has been sentenced to eighteen months. Pending his appeal, the rather nice open prison they were going to put him in, was burned down to the ground by the inmates protesting about the quality of the accommodation. I can’t see what that achieves, apart from ensuring that what’s left afterward is in still worse repair and even more overcrowded. It was on the television news one night. That started Uncle Igor off on a rant about how luxurious modern prisons are compared to the huts he had to share in the Volunteer Overseas Workers’ Scheme. So then, Justin felt he had to remind Igor that he had been a war criminal, and then Igor countered by saying he had joined the First Galician Division for purely patriotic reasons and had never knowingly broken the Geneva Convention, and that there was nothing wrong with making real criminals build their own prisons and how, in any case, everyone too young to remember the War is far too soft for their own good. He got quite carried away and shouted that the hard times of the 1930s were coming back, and the only way for an individual or a nation to regain its self-respect is through self-sacrifice and discipline. I have an uneasy feeling Igor will be volunteering a contribution to Mr Cameron’s Big Society just as soon as he has designed the armbands. But on the bright side, thanks to the European Convention on Human Rights, Bunnykin will still be allowed to cast his vote at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. I have a feeling we’ll all be voting again this year, somehow.

Well, there it is, and January of 2011 gone already, too. Until last week, we were frozen up, back to gritting the lanes with used capybara litter because they’re always in the house this cold weather - despite the twins breaking the ice in the moat for them - and queueing up to use the bathroom, where the water isn’t quite so chilly. The Belchford Yule Bear has been seen out on the Wolds, on January 5th, or Christmas Day, Old Style. This is not the same as the Sedge Bear, which brings good luck, but is said to be the ghost of a polar bear intended as a gift to Edward 1 by the King of Norway, shipwrecked off Saltfleet. Then there’s the Stenigot Stone, which hasn’t moved in centuries since the druids planted it there, or St Paulinus turned someone into it, depending which version you believe. Or millennia, if you are among those who say it arrived in a glacier. The last time a farmer tried to move it, according to old Mr Benniworth, the Hundred Years’ War started. Well, now it has fallen over - or rather, it was pushed, when one of Mr Wragby’s beet lorries backed into it. Mr Benniworth recited this verse for me:

“When Belchford’s Bear be seen at Yule,
The times to come mote be full cruel.
“An if the Stenigot Stone shall move,
The century shall luckless prove.”

It’s the cheery Dunkirk spirit of people like Mr Benniworth who help keep the rest of us going, don’t you think? Here’s wishing you all the best we can make of the dark times ahead… Gung Hey Fat Choi, as the Chinese say!

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