The Day I Became a Mother!

I have kept poultry since childhood ever since returning with my parents from a farm on Exmoor with a box containing half a dozen bantams smuggled into the back of their car. When one laid an egg en route and started cackling, my mother was furious. Fortunately we were too far into our journey for them to be taken back.  In time, she became equally fond of them and even allowed them to wander into the house to be given scraps of food.

The original bantams were farmyard mongrels but since I came to live in the secret valley I have kept Lavender Pekins.  These are allowed to wander the fields, even though they become supper for the fox, for there is nothing more delightful than to see happy hens striding down to the river or up the valley and (hopefully) back again. 

Bantams – or Cochins, as they are called in Canada and the USA – are ideal as garden birds for they do very little damage unlike their full sized relatives.  We keep those too but they are – with difficulty – kept firmly beyond the fence. I have written about the bantams in an earlier post and this can be seen by clicking here.

The other day I came across a couple of abandoned bantam eggs put them into a basket, kept them warm and waited to see what happened.

What a result!  An hour later it was dry and fluffy ….. and making even more noise!

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Old Twelfth Night – it’s Wassail Time

One of my great pleasures is to hear traditional songs being sung and I know quite a number by heart. A favourite is the old Wassail song sung on Wassail Day. The Cotswolds proved to be one of the last places where these old songs were commonly sung and they were written down for posterity by Cecil Sharp in the early 1900’s.

Here we go a-wassailing, all through the leaves so green, here we go a-wassailing, so early to be seen…”, goes the song and tomorrow, is Wassail Day.

Purists hold wassail on Old Twelfth Night, the 17th January (as against the ‘new’ date of the 6th), which is the date prior to 1752 when the calendar was changed and days ‘lost’. So wassailing will take place as night falls in orchards throughout England. However, with the dwindling number of orchards, the ceremony takes place less and less. The photo below is of a newly planted orchard at daffodil time.

I have never been to a wassail in the Cotswolds but, years ago, when I spent much of my early adult time on Exmoor, I wassailed the orchard attached to a local pub. As darkness fell, we carried flaming torches amongst the trees, drank to their health and placed pieces of toast (photo below) dipped in cider amongst the branches. And we sang the wassail song and many other old songs too. And just as we began to relax, and the cider take hold of us, guns were fired through the branches to scare off bad demons, bringing us back to our senses. That orchard has since been built upon and the tradition there lost.

The blackened faces of morris men, that attend some wassails, are also there to frighten evil spirits, for this has it’s roots in pagan times and has nothing whatsoever to do with race, as is now sometimes thought. PC means that many morris men no longer do this. The ceremony shown on the video below has both morris men and a wassail queen. I don’t recall seeing the morris when I took part, or a young virgin for that matter, but perhaps that is due to too much cider and too many years passing. There is no wassail singing on the video and only a glimpse of morris dancing – the latter I hope to write about, with other local customs, in the future.

If the wassail works there really will be “…apples down in capfuls, buckets, bushels, bags and all…” and, if not, a lot of fun will have been had regardless. And in the final words of the old song, readers, may I “…wish you, send you a healthy new year…”