Frosts decided to grace us with their presence this week. Two frosty mornings with damp in the air which makes for a particularly chilly, rimy start to the working day. But I personally love a frosty morning. It makes everything so clean and fresh and it fills you with a certain exuberance, so nothing that you take on that day seems to be too adventurous.
It was on such a morning as this last mid-week that I noticed a hedge up towards the badger sett that needed attention. It had grown tall and straggly and needed laying. It is a very ancient hedge and they say; “for every variety of tree in a hedge you add a 100 years”. In this particular hedge there is Hazel, Hawthorne, Blackthorn, Ash and Field Maple so to my reckoning, it is at least 500 years old. And in its lifetime it has probably been laid a few dozen times. A hedge is in constant evolution, ever in flux. The homes it creates for nature and the protection it gives, it is a truly, remarkable, living boundary and one I never tire of looking at or working on to preserve.
I set out early Saturday morning with billhook, camping stove and kettle in the back of the Land Rover to the hedge in question. It was about 500 yards from my badger sett. However, just as I was leaving the house I bumped into the Coopers who were carrying a couple of bags. I had not seen much of them since I moved their tent from the sett a few weeks ago. We were now on good speaking terms, they understood, and they were still just as enthusiastic as ever on the protection of the badgers.
“What are you up to this morning Allan?” asked Mr. Cooper.
“Laying that hedge up at Beech Wyn.”
“Oh, we might be up later.”
“Well if you do come up, bring some eggs and a few bits of bacon and we’ll have some lunch.”
“That sounds lovely,” Mrs Cooper replied with Mr Cooper nodding.
“What are you both up to?”
“We’re just dropping off a few bits and pieces for the village bazaar.”
“Oh yes, Jackie is just sorting out a few things for that, well lovely to see you, hopefully see you both later.”
“Oh we’ll be there Allan,” and with that we all went our separate ways.
In a very short time I was up at the hedge, first job being, getting a small fire going. I filled the kettle from the water canister and soon the flames were leaping around it. Time goes by so quickly when you are hedging and soon my jacket was off and it was time for a cup of tea. As I sat on an old stump I noticed I was being kept company by a couple of Magpies who seemed to be looking down at the few yards of hedge that I had laid, I picked up another handful of sticks and put on the fire and there I sat with my tea.
It must have been the Coopers mentioning the word Bazaar and I started to reminisce of the village bazaars of yesteryear, which were always two or three weeks before Christmas. The villages were full of kids in those days and it was one of the main events on the village calendar. There were a couple of large families in the village, mine being one of them and the village bazaar organisers would ask my mother if she would like to go round the night before the bazaar in the village hall and go through the jumble. A lot of our clothes in those days were from the summer jumble sale, fete and bazaar. It was a favour to my mother and family that she was so very pleased with and always held the two or three people who ran the bazaar in very high esteem.
As I looked into the flames of my little fire listening to the sticks crackling as the flames licked in between them, I thought back to the winters when we were all small kids in a little cottage with one fire which my parents could not afford to fuel properly. Coal was a very precious resource and was always expensive. So us kids were always wooding, with our little wood cart, the fun was immeasurable, the days were really quite magical.
It was early December on a Friday evening, we were all sat around the fire, myself, dad and my five siblings, waiting for mum to return with her jumble sale purchases, my father told us of a family fable which he duly demonstrated. He picked up a stick from the bundle by the side of the fire, he passed the stick to my eldest brother. He then told my eldest brother to break it, which my eldest brother did with ease. Dad then told him to toss it into the fire. My father then picked up two sticks and passed it to my next brother down, dad then told him to break those, again, my brother was able to do. Dad then told him to toss them into the fire. Dad then picked up three sticks and passed them to the next brother down who was a twin with my sister. With a little bit more of an effort he broke them and then tossed them into the fire by my father’s instruction. Dad then picked up four sticks and passed them to my sister, she grappled with the sticks. The effort this time was much more visible, after a minute or so she broke them over her knee. She then tossed those into the fire. My father then picked up five sticks and gave them to me. I put the sticks across my knee, I tried and I tried to break the sticks, but I could not break them no matter how much I tried. My brothers and sister watched as I struggled with this handful of sticks. After what seemed to be an eternity but which was probably only a couple of minutes, I had to hand them back to my father defeated. With the embarrassment of not being able to do what my brothers and sister had done, I looked to my father and asked him “What was the point of that?” My father did not reply but handed them to each of my brothers and sister in turn as they too could not break the sticks. He then explained, “As you go through life, the more you lose contact and splinter away from each other, the easier you are to be broken, but if you stick together and each one’s problem becomes all of your problems, you will never be broken.” This lesson I have never forgotten from a man I respected more than any other. A man who had been a paratrooper at Arnhem and wounded three times and yet survived. A self-employed Stone Mason who brought up six kids in very taxing and an austere age.
After another couple of hours of hedge laying I was startled by, “Oh you’re getting on very well here.” The Cooper’s invalidity buggy was so silent and yet so cool as it carried them along two up.
Mr and Mrs Cooper then set up the frying pan and was soon cracking eggs and in no time you could smell the delicious scent of bacon and eggs. As I cut the fresh loaf of bread into door step chunks, Mrs Cooper went on to say how they had bumped into an old keeper named Catweazle at the bazaar and what really tickled the Coopers was how he was going on about how he had lost a Christmas turkey to me forty years earlier. A story I will tell you all about another time.