Sotby Hall, Christmas Eve, 2012
Dear Distant Kin or Absent Friend,
What a year it’s been for us all - and it isn’t over yet, even if we survived the end of the world on the 21st! Disaster struck again last week! Whilst mulling some wine for the coming of the Minting Mummers with the Yule Bear, I left the pan on the Aga to answer the door.
Afterwards the Fire Brigade wanted to know why I had poured a plastic gallon container of red diesel into the jam-kettle and warmed it up to flash point. I had that terrible cold that’s doing the rounds (still have, actually), and simply assumed it was some of Uncle Igor’s beetroot claret that he’d racked off and left by the kitchen door for me. So we now have no kitchen, and are using the Great Hall fireplace instead. I must get Justin to overhaul the clockwork spit-jack…
Xavier flew in from Santiago de Cali yesterday with an awful lot of luggage (presents for all his business associates, he says), and Julia dropped in with just a back-pack the day before from Calvi where she's been having a nice rest with the rest of her regiment, and where she says she met one of the Saudi royal family. I can't remember which one (there are dozens) but she referred to him as a 'trouduc et branleur', which I suppose is roughly equivalent to a royal duke and a mover and shaker, so she must mean Prince Abdullah Al-Saud, who did quite well in the Olympic equestrian show jumping. And I think I can hear another Learjet circling over Xavier’s in Barlands as I write: it must be dear Uncle Juan, just in time to celebrate Midnight Mass in the Chapel! What with Tamsin, Justin, Igor, the twins back from Madagascar, Roger from his lecture tour, Aunt Lavinia from the opening of the Galeria Cetchwayo in Barcelona, and Oscar and Bunnykin both out on parole, it will be quite a throng of family again, this Christmas.
To cheer ourselves up after a thoroughly miserable day on the Thames for Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee Regatta, we went on to Oxford to visit Tamsin at Bolingbroke (or 'broke', as they call it). No wonder they call the College 'broke': I doubt most people could ever afford to pay for bed and breakfast there, never mind full bed and board for three years. It makes the Randolph, where Roger and I like to stay when we're among the dreaming spires and ivory towers of privileged paedagogy, seem positively moderate. Of course I know I'm jealous - the broadest my educational horizons ever got at her age was going off to Riseholme to do my diploma in Agriculture.
The Wragby and District Women's Institute Book Club has been reading 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' by E. L. James. I joined in, if only to see what all the fuss was about. Well, it's true what Oscar Wilde once said: that there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are either well written, or badly written, and that is all. The title itself is a warning: it's about half as interesting a book to take to bed with you as a Munsell Soil Colour guide, because at least Munsell has shades of brown in it was well. It seems to me that its popularity (Fifty Shades of Grey, not Munsell) is in the fact that as an e-book you can download it to your Kindl Surprise or whatever those tablet things are called, and when you're on the bus or in the cafe no-one knows you're reading the Mills and Boon equivalent of the Marquis de Sade. People don't seem to consider it at all embarrassing that on the other hand it looks as if you're playing with an Etch-A-Sketch.
Poor Uncle Juan thought he had got through to the Pope at last, about becoming more modern. His Holiness now has a Twitter account: https://twitter.com/Pontifex/with_replies, but as you’ll see, he hasn’t sent any tweets yet, or even tried to follow any. Juan tells me there is a reason for this. It’s on hold until Juan can convince him that tweeting in Latin is a bit self-defeating.
In August we were all in London again, eager to watch little Wilhelmina compete in the Olympics, especially in the BMX events. Poor girl. Dr Hegel's assertiveness therapy has its drawbacks. When the first race started, she assumed some predator had frightened the herd and, asserting herself as the alpha cow bicycle, turned on the starters who had to run for cover. So she's back home with us, on a change of medication and pedalling the generator, which has at least saved us from erecting a couple of wind turbines for the time being.
Went to the first meeting of the new committee for the Friends Of Market Rasen Old Police Station in October, or at least I tried to! Only two councillors turned up, so it wasn't an official meeting, but a chat! Still nothing happening, so frustrating. By the way, there is a vacancy on the town council again! Igor is standing as an independent, wholly undaunted by having lost his deposit in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections for the county. I haven't the heart to tell him we didn't vote for him. Even so, he polled 124 votes. I have no idea who they were, but Justin kept trying not to smile when he heard me wondering aloud over the results in the Sleaford Target.
Dreadful weather all summer, but the capybaras did well at the county show, mainly because the parts of the showground that weren't under canvas, were under water. Then an open meeting about flood prevention in the Bain Valley, hosted by Hemingby Group Parish Council and sponsored by the Environment Agency, Lindsey Marsh Drainage Board and Lincolnshire County Council, was cancelled - due to flooding. Mind you, the capybaras did well at the county show, mainly because all the showground that wasn't under canvas, was under water.
Another first for the family, f a bit mysterious, but then it's about Charls, so it would be. We got a postcard from him to say he's been awarded an Otto Rahn Fellowship by the Wewelsburg Institute for his work Pigs And Breadfruit Of The Gods: The Fifth Root-Race Genomic Diaspora In The Pacific Rim 50,000 BCE - 1790 CE. It will keep Charles busy and away from home for at least three years whole he does field research, so he's resigned from the Commanderie. Roger laughed uncontrollably when I told him, and asked me if I knew who Otto Rahn was. I asked him to spell his name so I could Google him, but he simply said it was money well spent, and I should ask Justin.
With things as bad as they are - economic meltdown, ash die-back, floods, DEFRA brain-death over the badger cull debacle, and I don't know what else, I confess I've been avoiding old Mr Benniworth and his omens of doom and gloom, or what he calls The Year's Luck. After the luck we've all been having this year, I really didn't think I wanted any at all for 2013... but he ran into me on the 20th when I was trying to start the beet-cutter and I thought: Please God, at least don't let it be something about the Mayan calendar ending on the 21st ... well, as he ambled towards me pushing his bike, he told me that that the snails were high up the walls of Nanny Sausthorpe's room at her care home in Ingoldmells. He'd been over to see her, he said. Crawling up the cornices, they were. Even though they'd been skulking around the skirting boards since 2008. He went on, waving a copy of the Financial Times at me, to say that the FTSE 100 Index, the Hang Seng, Dow-Jones, NASDAQ and the Nikkei were all down yet again, but the snails were up and nothing else out of the ordinary had been seen or heard by anyone. Everybody now knows that when the snails are low on the walls of Nanny Sausthorpe's bedroom, the Stock Market is bear-ish.
What on earth can it mean? I asked him. That was stupid of me, I know...
Well Missus, he said, It's all to do with this Mayan calendar. It ends tomorrow, he said. And tomorrow is Saint Barnwald's Day.
Never heard or him. Or her, I said.
Him, he said, accusingly. Then he recited one of his odd little rhymes:
"When sunrise halves the Milky Way,
At dawn upon Saint Barnwald's Day,
The Fourth Age will its time have run
Full thousand years, twoscore and one."
That's from the prophecies of Old Mother Martin, apparently, as is most of the stuff he comes up with. The Mayans, he explained, say each 'Age of the Sun' lasts for 21,000 years, and on the 21st of December this year the plane of the ecliptic bisects the visible midpoint of our galaxy, which it hasn't done for all that long time. The snails know this, and are responding to the new law of a New Age, that of the Fifth Sun, in which everything will be different.
Then the beet-cutter suddenly fired up, which I'd despaired of ever happening. Perhaps it was a good omen? Let's hope Old Mother Martin and the ancient Mayan priests are right! Poor Mr Benniworth looked very glum about it all, though. I think he feels that, somehow, he's let everyone down.
Anyway, here's all the very best for 2013, from all of us, to all of you!