Writing my last post was triggered by the NHS lantern suggestion. This reminded me of August 2008 when, for the first and only time, on the evening of my son’s wedding, Chinese lanterns were lit and released from the farm. Knowing what we now know, I naturally wouldn’t do it again. Whether or not it’s legal, it wouldn’t feel right.
I wrote a poem for that wedding (but it was for the couple, not specifically the bride, so not really an epithalamium). However, this is such a lovely and unusual word that I’ve borrowed it for the title of the post! The poem was in ‘Juice of the Lemon’ and I’ve popped it in below.
A word that does occur in the poem is ‘matchmakers’. In their human form, they’ve featured in the nuptial process for centuries, and they still exist in some cultures. In their confectionery form however they were invented and named some forty years before my son’s wedding – in 1968. They were packaged in boxes, (with gold sheen and black lettering), made to a slide and shell design, similar to the way in which boxes of matches are constructed. They were tiny, a third of the length of the current chocolate sticks, with about seventy of them placed into each box. They were launched originally as a quality ‘nibble’, intended for sophisticated late 1960s adults and for special occasions, not for everyday.
What has happened in the last few weeks in my home, and in others I know about, is that the normal, the everyday and expected have all gone into a giant melting pot with the treats, the unexpected, the celebratory and the special. The future is no longer mapped out or known with any certainty, but there is pleasure and comfort in family, in friends and in the little things. And that doesn’t just mean chocolate.
Back then, we did all the research that seemed required. Our main concern was fire. We didn’t want to be responsible for a chimney or a tinder-dry meadow being set alight, or even a hay-barn. We were assured that the paper structures would drift gently downwards when the flame went out. And, should one happen to snag a branch on its descent, it would just stay there glowing until extinguished. No problem.
Our other concern was eco-friendliness – we didn’t want the carcase, the thin wire ribs to be left, littering, polluting. We wanted it all to melt away into nothingness, leaving only the memory of flight. So, those that we sourced had slender twiggy struts, with not a wire in sight. We felt safe, pleased with our sustainable alternative.
What we didn’t think of, and only heard of afterwards as these things gained in popularity, was how one in flight might be mistaken for a flare, might alert one of the rescue services, might waste someone’s precious time, resources.
But it took an image of an owl punctured and mutilated for us to realise that a paper bird, whatever its bones were made of, could still maim and kill.
So be uplifted; share the symbolism of airborne hopes, but just breathe your thanks and wishes into the night sky. No lighting of lanterns. We know better now.
The picture is of the tipi meadow lit up, but with wild flowers.
I seem to cross the bridge less often these days, and of course, it’s not possible at all right now. In Midsummer 2009 I drove from West Wales to Northampton in my little mini to collect a prize and to visit old friends. The prize was for the poem ‘On Meeting my Cousin’, in which the cousin is called Mark. The poem was inspired by the time my cousin Paul came to live with us when I was a child of five or six, just after we left Wales.
Looking back from the situation we’re in where an outing to the nearest little town to visit two shops and the vets for essentials becomes a brief respite from cabin fever, this solo outing to Northampton seems like an adventurous frivolity! I must have spent more on fuel than I won in prize money. I also got horribly lost, and to cap it all, the husband’s motorcycle ‘tomtom’ was pinched when I left the car to pay for fuel and chewing gum at a garage. Net loss then, chalked up to experience.
My last post was about Paul, who died last week. Here is the poem loosely based on the time when he was a significant figure in my childhood.
A cousin living in Pembrokeshire has been searching online for an obituary. No obituary is there. There may not have been one written. The death was on Tuesday 14th April in Edinburgh, one of the 699 total recorded (although we know figures, and reporting of statistics, vary) in Scotland up to 15th April.
The deceased was a widower, having married, in his middle years, a woman from the Isle of Mull. He left no children. He was half-Welsh, a quarter English and a quarter Indian. He was a former translator who worked freelance from 1979, translating from French, Spanish and Italian into English.
According to a website for the translator community – there are communities on the web for everything you could possibly imagine – Paul, the deceased, specialised in the legal, financial and mechanical engineering sectors, with expertise in reports and patents. He worked for companies and agencies including Renault, Goldman Sachs and the EEC.
He was my first cousin, another cousin, and he died of Covid-19.
I hadn’t seen him for decades. The retired and retiring professional man I’m reading about is not the 19 year old who blew into and through our lives, when he had been sent on a ship from the antipodes by his exhausted mother. She had hoped my father would be able to connect with Paul, talk sense to him and ‘sort him out’. Our little nuclear family admitted defeat after a year or two of trouble. According to snatches of rumour and anecdote I heard across my early years, Paul remained restless, rootless and unsettled for years until he found his vocation, his life partner, religion (again) and somewhere which felt like home.
We were in touch occasionally. The last time with any depth or meaning was a few years ago, when he flew to Western Australia to donate a kidney to his younger sister. This was not the act of the feckless chancer I recall from childhood. Paul outlived his sister.
He was my first cousin, a man of talents and contradictions, and he died of Covid-19.
My dreams have been peopled with sideshow freaks, circus acts, feats of wild bravery, shrieks and gasps, but right now, the big top has gone and it’s a grey Saturday morning. There are new sounds – distant, homogenised creature noises, and small, purposeful rustlings beside me.
Something is being constructed out of an A4 sheet of paper. Is it a plane, boat, bird – duck or swan? Is it origami practice or a rehearsal for the world napkin-folding championships, (to be held, of course, online)? I can’t guess. Turns out it’s a template for a little piece of lead needed to complete a window repair. This morning’s project, up on scaffolding.
Sweet peas are potted on. The companionless spaniel is cajoled to walk the fields just with us, his brother gone. And another bold act unfolds, live on my phone, as a cousin’s wife in the West Country shaves her head – a glorious red bob – raising money for the NHS. Heroism everywhere.
Yesterday marked two weeks since we lost Dougal. There is still a very large Spaniel-shaped hole in our lives but, fortunately, his brother and litter-mate seems less bewildered now.
Yesterday was also our anniversary, an oddly low-key day although, since low-key is the new normal, it shouldn’t have been surprising. The twin highlights were donkey-rustling and dessert. Donkeys are cunning. Donkeys are clever. They lull you into a false sense of confidence when you occasionally relax security measures. On one such occasion, yesterday, they took themselves off to explore greener pastures and to evade capture for the day.
Now what you don’t want is an over-indulged donkey grazing unchecked on lush new growth. You don’t want a donkey (or two) having stomach-ache, or colic, or laminitis. You also don’t want a donkey (or two) getting out into the lane and meeting traffic. At this time of lockdown however, there is almost no traffic to worry about and the two escapees seem unscathed by their adventures. They were relatively easy to catch after hours of gorging, and happy to be led home late afternoon, with no dawdling or hedgerow foraging en route.
I mentioned pudding. Having discovered a really simple vegan recipe for lemon posset back in January, the husband has made it for me many times since. Last night’s pudding surpassed superlatives. We over-indulged too!