Well, I apologise for neglecting this blog. The term has been a difficult one, with the strictures on tutors now so impossible to live with that I’m considering quitting. Is it my fault if students don’t get A’s? Apparently so. Is it true that A = pass and every other grade, including B+ = fail? Apparently so, and if I don’t want end-of-term deputations and the increasing danger of litigation, then I must award A’s to all. This is no world to have any sense of integrity.
A sympathetic email from Lindsay Clarke yesterday said it was for this very reason that he quit teaching undergraduates. Lindsay’s latest novel, The Water Theatre, is a brilliant evocation of the schizophrenic nature of people in the second half of the twentieth century, where politics and spirituality were opposed. It is a book of love and healing and I recommend it wholeheartedly. The paperback is going into a second edition within six months of publication.
Apparently it is difficult to put a date to Yule Tide. You kind of know when it is, and I kind of think it is now. The local shop has Christmas trees on the forecourt, the interior has more decorations than goods on sale, and the swans on the pond are trying to maintain their dignity as they walk across ice. People come back from town with rolls of wrapping paper sticking out of over-full carrier bags, and lots of Christmas cards come through the post. Yep. Definitely Yule Tide. We sit under Slankets in front of an electric heater and dream of chestnuts and a real fire. Salad won’t do for lunch, it has to be hot soup or beans on toast. When there’s a gap in the freeze, we dash to the allotment to excavate leeks and snap off sprouts, and then we dash back again as the sun sinks in it’s ridiculous “I’m off early, it’s winter” routine, leaving the sky pink above Wytham Hill and its brown smudge of trees. Without doubt, this is Yule.
We don’t hunt anything any more, not even thimbles, but in the past December was the great hunting season. The boar’s head didn’t just get there on the table, you know; the boar was caught in the forest by hunters with boar hounds and torn to pieces first.
The picture from Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry shows such a hunt in the forest of Vincennes. For those who have read The Rebirth of Venus, the castle in the background is where Pico della Mirandola was imprisoned.
We have a community farm in the village, and when I heard some lambs were going to slaughter, I ordered a leg for Christmas dinner. The shepherd (aka editor of local paper) cycled past the house this morning and I dashed out to remind him of our order. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘we only did two hoggets this year.’ So I dashed back in to my dictionary: hogget – one-year-old sheep. ‘Lamb’ is a fairly loose term these days. We never have mutton now, and I’ve never heard of roast hogget.
Both Pagan and Christian traditions agree that Yule is a time for feasting, and we mustn’t leave out the trees. Wassail is drinking the health of orchard trees, and hanging toast soaked in cider from apple boughs to bring a good crop. There may be sense behind the romance: small birds attracted by the toast may stay for a bug dessert, cleaning the tree of pests for the coming season.
So I’m going to go and mull some cider and decorate my apple tree, singing, Here’s to the old apple tree. That blooms well, bears well. Hats full, caps full. Three bushel bags full. An’ all under one tree. Hurrah! Hurrah!