Anyone who has ever read my blog has probably arrived at the conclusion that I rather like walking in the English countryside.
I am in the very fortunate position, of being able to step out of my front door and go for a walk up the road out of the village, which winds between fields of cows and sheep. It is not a dramatic landscape round here - there are none of the peaks and waterfalls and lakes of the North, there are no glittering sea views or rearing white cliffs. But there are hedgegrows that are alive with sparrows, robins, bluetits, chaffinches; there are enormous black cows which blow at me as I pass, curly haired brown cows like teddy bears who came and stare at me over the gate, fluffy white, bouncy, silly, sheep. Many of the fields still roll and dip from their days as medieval Ridge and Furrow fields and, with approaching spring are sprouting with daisies and the bright, glowing yellow of celandines and dandelions. The ancient hedgerows are beginning to sprout a green fuzz of new leaves and will soon be starred with hawthorn and blackberry blossom and briar roses, the verges of the road are emerald green with thick grass, clumps of daffodils and snowdrops, nodding their heads every few feet.
However, the verges and hedgrows, the ditches that carry the rainwater to the streams are also liberally decorated with coke and red bull cans, wine bottles, fanta bottles, juice boxes, plastic bags, polystyrene boxes, Mcafe cups, ciggarette packets, crisp packets. Once every week or so I take a rubbish bag on my walks, but I have always filled it within a hundred yards or so, though I concentrate mainly on filling it with the plastic, and aluminium and glass, leaving the cigarette boxes and paper cups, because I simply can't carry them all and I hope they will break down without releasing too many poisons into the environment.
I'm afraid that this absolutley baffles me. I can understand why, in poverty stricken areas of the world, where people are uneducated, desperate, have given up hope, that they don't care about chucking the odd crisp packet on the ground. But in middle class Buckinghamshire?
I realise that a lot of this rubbish will have been blown here (I have worked out what most meteorologists still haven't; namely, that wind has nothing to do with cold fronts or warm fronts or freezing bottoms, but likes to blow hardest on rubbish days, when the streets are lined with bins) but I can't believe the wind is responsible for it all - the other day, I was working an area I had "cleaned up" just two weeks before and found nine wine bottles, seven plastic bottles, numerous aluminium cans etc etc.
Now I walk at least once, if not twice or three times a day with the dog as I know a lot of people do. And though it's tricky to manage a dog on the road and a rubbish bag, I figure I can do a "clean up" of sorts at least once a week - and obviously, the more of us who do this, maybe we can mae a tiny difference, which is better than nothing. I realise that I am probably preaching to the converted, but if anyone is interested, I have started a "Dog Walkers for a Cleaner Britain" (yeah, I know, snazzy title!) page on Facebook, in the hopes that some people may join me in my quest. So please pop along and like it, if you can, or share it!
Thursday, 4 February 2016
Fiery sparks streamed from the torches of the villagers, lighting their faces to demony in the blowing darkness as they surged down the lane towards the village.
A lynch mob, you wonder? No, this was the first Adstock Wassail, held last weekend for the Adstockistan orchard.
First things first. Adstokistan: A community apple orchard planted and run by some wonderful people in the village, who served in Afghanistan, primarily to raise money for Afghanaid. Each tree in the orchard has been sponsored by someone in the village – half the money went towards buying the trees themselves, whilst the rest was donated to Afghanaid, where it is used to support orchards in Badakhshan province. Badakhshan has very little arable land and the people there are forced to exist on subsistence farming, so the orchards not only provide an income for farmers, but help protect the soil from erosion, preventing the deadly landslides that occur in the area.
Adstokistan itself now has 74 trees; it will be a place where people can picnic, with a purpose built shelter and there are plans to hold an Adstocktober Fest and a Wassail ever year.
Which brings me to:
A Wassail - an ancient ceremony held in orchards, to wake the trees from their midwinter sleep and wish them health and happiness for the coming season. Personally, I had only ever heard of Wassails in the context of Christmas, drinking, eating, etc etc, so this was fascinating for me, not least, because I also made my debut with Owlswick Morris Side, (we were the pagan representatives, I think) dancing dances I had never danced before, which was interesting.
The orchard lies at the top of a hill(ish), but it was a cold and stormy afternoon, so that the pastoral view of rolling fields and hedgerows was shadowed by the wind whipped winter trees and the shredded grey clouds that scudded overhead. In the midst of the orchard was a gigantic kadai (an enormous barbeque grill!) which was streaming flames into the sky and surrounded by torches. After a few morris dances and communal singing of the Wassail song, people were invited into the orchard to feed their trees with toast, soaked in cider – thus inviting birds to the tree – and a Tree Wassail was spoken:
Old apple tree, we wassail thee and hoping thou wilt bear,
Hatfuls, capfuls, three bushel-bagfuls
And a little heap under the stairs, Hip! Hip! Hooray!
After which, there was much banging of pots and pans and screaming to wake the trees and chase off evil spirits.
There followed a blessing and the lighting of the twelve torches around the kadai – making thirteen fires in all, representing Jesus and his apostles. The thirteenth fire, that of Judas, was put out (actually I think the wind blew it out before anybody else could!) before it could take hold. Then there were a couple of hymns sung, a final blessing and the villagers were invited to light their torches and head down the lane to the village hall for warm cider.
So that, my friends, is an Apple Wassail and very good it was too. I wanted to write about this, for many reasons; firstly because I am a sucker for anything old or ritualistic; secondly because I love the connection with Afghanistan – whilst never having been there myself, I have friends who have worked there and anyway, it's one of my favourite parts of the world and one that mostly gets bad press; and thirdly, because I think it's a jolly good cause and I have a lot of admiration for the people who run it.
Jo Nicholson and Danny Tomblin, two of the people involved, are both running the London Marathon to raise money for Afghanaid, so if anyone is interested in this project, please head over to this page: