Snoozing in my bed this morning with the dulcet tones of the BBC’s Today programme washing over me, I contemplated the notion of rising and shining to greet the new day. And then, blow me down with a wet didgeridoo if you will, didn’t somebody say it has been scientifically proven that men have an inbuilt sense of direction and women don’t. At least, in my semi-wakened state that I think is what the nub of the item was about.
Now I can feel women everywhere bristling at this idea and I’m sure you good ladies all have a most excellent sense of direction and could find your way from Rotterdam to Riga just by consulting your inner satnav.
This piece of biological or neurological equipment, sadly, I seem bereft of. As do all the female line of my family. Whatever bit of familial chromosomal material on whichever gene assists with finding one's way, this never attached itself to our brainboxes.
I know this and so do my female rellies, as we have all tried over the years to educate ourselves in the minutiae of the geography of our country in an endeavour to independently find our way to unfamiliar destinations, mostly to no avail. How does one know to go down this street or that in a strange town, or an instinct that says ‘we want to be over there?’ Yet my spouse can do this in any place, in any country.
Technically speaking, we have all learned to map read, but it does not translate to anything meaningful in our heads. For me it’s something akin to reversing the car using the mirrors. Which way to turn the wheel? I have to think about it. I don’t think I’m unusually dense, it just doesn’t come naturally.
My spouse always maintained I could get lost in a paper bag. As ever, he exaggerates, thought I. Until one day I almost got lost on Darlington Station. Early morning, waiting with a friend for a train to Inverness and nature called. I duly trotted off and found the Ladies, used the facilities and came out again, only without realising it, out of a different door. I stood on an unfamiliar platform wondering what on earth was going on. Had I gone through Platform Nine and Three Quarters like Harry Potter and come out in a strange land? I went back indoors again and discovered there were, after all, two doors to this facility. With huge relief I stepped out again, onto the platform I had so recently left. So yes, maybe spouse has a point. I had got lost almost in the space of a paper bag.
Returning to the item on the Today programme. It seems this inbuilt sense of direction was a requirement of our male hunter-gatherer ancestors. Presumably they roamed hither and yon in search of food and it was helpful to find their way back to the little woman at the homestead.
Lucky for me I don’t live in a mansion or palace. I might have had to find my way with the unwinding a piece of string technique. And please, never, ever put me in a maze or I might end my days still trying to find my way out. (Note to self - do not let spouse read this - it may prove too tempting.)
Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright.
Well not in this house it isn't.
Christmas Eve was the usual hectic time, firstly welcoming visitors and then along with my music group, to play and lead the singing at our carol service, followed by the first Mass of Christmas. It has been wonderful, welcoming the new-born Lord Jesus into our lives. I came home spiritually renewed and refreshed, walking on air, althoug a little croaky in the voice department.
As I have been leading the singing at the Christmas services for more years than I care to count or remember, (I would run out of fingers and have to take my socks off and start on my toes), I am no stranger to this vocal phenomenon. And neither is my spouse and therein lies the rub.
If I was disposed to be uncharitable towards him and how can I during this season of goodwill to all men and this must, I suppose, include my spouse, I would hazard a guess that he looks forward to this annual event. A wife with no speaking voice, how lucky can a man get?
How do I know this? We are hardly out of the church door when he pats my arm with pseudo-concern, trying valiantly to suppress a seraphic smile, saying 'you mustn't talk my dear, you rest your voice.'
For me it will be a very silent Christmas Eve night and Christmas Day. My family will talk all around me, smiling, laughing and sharing jokes. The moment I attempt to join in with my cracked and strained vocals, my spouse is on it in a nano-moment, that horrid little smirk hovering at the corners of his mouth and suppressed glee lurking at the back of his eye.
Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright?
Hmmm. Maybe for now Mr PC, but just wait 'till you go down with a serious dose of man-flu. I can wait .....
In the meantime, I wish everyone a very peaceful and happy Christmas and hopefully, not as silent as mine.
Spouse and I recently spent a few days with our friends on their farm in south-west Scotland and on my return, I realised how I had seen things with fresh eyes, things that I had witnessed for years but had come to take for granted.
My friends are not only country dwellers, born and bred, but also true stewards of the land and the natural world. Not only is their land tended with love and care, but also every living creature around them.
Their cows are pets, nurtured in warm strawed out byres in winter and turned out to green pastures for the summer. Cherished into their old age they depart only when they attain their natural life-span.
A small herd of Shetland ponies roam the home paddock by day and are tucked up, snug and warm, in their strawed pens by night.
Sheep wander up and down the hillside, well-fed on the lush grass, so abundantly available to them.
There is no need for a dog to round the animals up on this farm. They are all so intimately connected with their owners, they come at their call.
For many years three feral cats have been fed in the front garden of the farmhouse. They do not wish to come into the house, but prefer the snug beds provided under shelters that have been made for them outdoors.
The wild birds are fed and even the mice that live in the dry stone wall have breadcrumbs put out for them twice daily. What a joy it is to watch them cautiously peeping out and then like lightning, whisking the bread away.
Best of all is the performing crow. He does an acrobatic act to attract attention when he arrives for his breakfast and supper. Somersaults a-plenty are performed and then a song. Who would not reward such endeavour?
When the first rescued pony came to live with them I commented that he had come to paradise. He had been rescued from the other end of the country where he was living in a dark shed and fed only on carrots. He made the journey home with them in a large dog cage. He would not fit in it now, as he is well grown, sleek and extremely lively.
This farm is a little patch of paradise for all the creatures, however large or lowly who have the privilege to share their lives with my friends.
Once upon a time, long long ago, a woman married a man and this man had a friend who had a wife whom he called ‘The Dragon’. Every proposed social meet-up, every decision to be taken, every appointment was always back-heeled - ‘I’ll ask The Dragon.’
Now, the first man, who for the sake of argument we will call spouse, was very much impressed with the notion of ‘Dragonhood’ and complimented his friend on his descriptive powers.
‘Why aye man,’ quoth the friend, for he was a native of the North-East of England, ‘why aye, and she lives up to her name I can tell you. You divvent want to cross her, she might incinerate you, bonny lad.’
Spouse decided his young wife should be named ‘Trainee Dragon’ as her years and lack of experience befitted her for the junior post.
So, the years went by and the young wife and her swain lived in harmony together. Except … spouse would still call his lovely wife the ‘Trainee Dragon.’ This was a mistake, as for some long time the ‘Trainee’ had matured into a fully-fledged Yorkshire dragon, possibly an even more fearsome species than her North-Eastern mentor, only spouse did not notice.
Like his friend had, years before, he continually referred to ‘asking The Dragon’ … ‘I’ll check that with The Dragon’... ‘See what The Dragon thinks.’ There were jokes a-plenty at her expense. ‘We don’t need an oven, my wife just breathes on our food’ … ‘Snow never lasts on our drive, The Dragon breathes on it’ … ‘I save a fortune on central heating, she sits in the corner like a little flame-thrower.’
But the spouse could only push at this cave door for so long. Remember, a Yorkshire dragon lived within. And one day, which happened to be their wedding anniversary and spouse fondly recalled the birth of the ‘Trainee Dragon’, something snapped inside the the Yorkshire dragon. She reared up in all her fearsome glory, eyes blazing and flames of orange fire shooting from her mouth. In a moment spouse was gone ... ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
It’s a pity he only heeded the first part of his friend’s tale of ‘The Dragon’ and forgot about ‘she might incinerate you, bonny lad.’
A cautionary tale indeed. Never forget … there be dragons.