Bugwoman on Location – Christmas in Dorchester

St George’s Church, Fordington

Dear Readers, it was a strange, sad Christmas this year, without my Mum. We stayed in Dorchester (at the excellent Westwood House if you’re ever in need of a place to rest your weary head) – the owners, Tom and Demelza, have been so kind, and sensitive to my emotional turmoil too. We have walked up and down to the nursing home where Dad lives, and have found that his mental state has gone from bad to worse. When shown a picture of Mum of he furrowed his brow and asked if it was my brother’s girlfriend. He has regressed to a point where he seems to think that he is in his early twenties, and is planning on running a truck business, and maybe it is a strange kindness that he no longer seems to remember Mum, or the misery of the past few months. It is brutal to have lost both my parents, one to death and one to dementia, and some days I honestly don’t know how I get out of bed. But this time has also shown me that the web of connections between people, both in ‘real life’ and on the internet, is as resilient as spider silk. It has held me when I was afraid that I would fall, and I am so, so grateful.

But life goes on, and on Boxing Day I went out for a walk to Fordington with my husband, an area that I first discovered last week when I went to pick up Mum’s death certificate from the GP’s surgery. I was roused from my sorrow by the enormous church of St George’s standing on the hill, and seeming out of all proportion to the village around it. I loved the mixture of modest houses and massive mansions, and wanted to explore further.

The lane up to St George’s church

The church dates back to the 15th Century, but has some much earlier features: a Roman commemorative stone was found under the porch, and one of the pillars is actually a Roman pillar turned upside down. We can assume that a Roman temple stood on the site originally (Fordington was known as Durnovaria to the Romans, and was separate from Dorchester). Sacred sites are often used and re-used, as we know.

The Roman commemorative stone to Carinus, a nobleman, that was found under the porch in 1908

The upside-down Roman pillar, with the Capitol at the bottom

And as you know, I have always found solace in graveyards, so, after inspecting the inside of the church, we headed to the cemetery. Here, we found the only memorial to German prisoners of war of the First World War in the UK. Most of the prisoners died  during the Influenza epidemic of 1918, and were given full and solemn burial rites. They are honoured in a service on the afternoon of Remembrance Sunday every year, although the bodies have now been moved to the German War Cemetery in Cannock Chase, Staffordshire.

The Memorial to German Prisoners of War in Fordington Cemetery

The memorial was designed by another German POW, Karl Bartholmay and carved by Josef Walter. After the war, Walter emigrated to America, where he worked as a sculptor and made pieces for many public buildings.

By now, we were losing the light, and so we headed back through the churchyard and towards home, past the magnificent yew trees.

Fordington cemetery

And we were nearly home when I spotted something that made me laugh, for the first time in weeks.

This is a rather handsome herring gull ‘puddling’. It always reminds me a little of the Irish Jig. The theory is that the sound made by those big rubbery feet makes the earthworms think that it’s raining, and that their burrows are about to be flooded out, so they come to the surface, whereupon they are grabbed by the gull. There is something about the serious expression of the bird that always amuses me. Sometimes they manage to look slightly embarrassed when observed too.

I have been reading a wonderful book about gulls called ‘Landfill’ by Tim Dee, which discusses all manner of things gull-related. In particular, Dee discusses how landfill sites, formerly a beacon for seabirds, contain less and less edible matter, which is either buried immediately or goes off for biofuels. The ever-adaptable gulls are moving on to other sources of food, such as the icecreams of toddlers or the chips of the casual stroller, and have hence been demonised, as any creature does when it doesn’t ‘know its place’. I rather love these piratical, vaguely menacing birds, with their icy eyes and predatory beaks, and I blessed this one as I passed. He or she had been very obliging with their dance, and topped it all off with a most impressive greeting or threat to another bird passing overhead.

Ah, Dear Readers, what a year it has been. But a walk in nature usually persuades me that life goes on, with all its trials and joys and moments of unexpected comedy. I wish a slightly less tumultous ride for me for 2019, and a cornucopia of good things for all of you lovely people. And here, to finish 2018, is a most handsome dove, one of a group of white birds performing outside the Town Hall. May we all find the peace that the bird represents.




13 thoughts on “Bugwoman on Location – Christmas in Dorchester

  1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    The way I soon started to look at it was to celebrate all the wonderful things that my parents had done and achieved during their lives. (Not least of which was to give me a good start in life!) And certainly to find humour in even the smallest things. My dad used to watch Tipping Point religiously and he was convinced the sponsoring advert in the breaks said “Turf Accountant” (when it’s actually “Clever Comfort”). His hearing wasn’t that bad so I’m not quite sure where he got that from, but it still makes me smile today when I watch it. 😊

    1. Bug Woman

      I know what you mean, Mike – this last chapter in my Mum’s life is only a tiny part of her span, and she was such an inspiration in so many ways. Over time I’m sure that I’ll gain perspective, and get my sense of humour back!

  2. penthompson

    I really empathise. I feel I’m a little bit ahead of you , with dad dying in October having lost all his faculties , and my stepmother 3 years before . ( He cared for her through her Alzheimer’s ) . I recognise the apparent immediate forgetting of the loved one. It’s both distressing and also a relief. Very strange for you , of course. I’m glad that you are continuing to blog and look at nature . As others say, its good to appreciate what we have been given by our parents -life,love,curiosity. So lets hope 2019 is a better year. Good luck. Pen

    1. Bug Woman

      Thank you Pen, and I hope 2019 is a happy and healthy year for you too. It’s a strange comfort to know that I don’t walk this road alone xx

  3. Juliet Jancso

    You have had an incredibly hard year and you have let us travel along with you. Thank you for sharing your insights and showing us your wisdom. Your mother Mum and Dad have been blessed with a lovely daughter.

  4. Toffeeapple

    I admire the strength with which you have negotiated this year and wish you the same for the next. I imagine that you are feeling (as my folks would say) out of bonk but I am certain that things will, eventually, smooth out again.

    My very best wishes for 2019 Vivienne and thank you for continuing with your writing. xx

  5. ravenhare

    Gosh, what amazing writing – and that link to the sanity of the natural world that helps so many of us. Thank you for carrying on with, and sharing your writing – which is as strong and incredible in the hardest of times.
    2018 has been a horribly difficult year for many of us, but here’s to 2019 being a new chapter in our stories – and here’s to a happier one for us all too. With love, and big hugs from the hills to you. xxx🤗

  6. Liz Norbury

    On the first day of this new year, I’m wishing you tranquility after the tumult of 2018, and some space for new things to grow in your life. I’ve benefited from both of these in the year since my father died.

    I also find I’m able to remember Dad again as the kind, thoughtful and energetic man he was before he was boxed in and frustrated by illness. Christmas was his favourite time of year, and well into his 80s, he was out nearly every night in December taking part in musical events; I can picture him now, at the piano, leading the singing of the traditional Cornish carols which he loved.

    I’m sure in the months ahead, you’ll think back more and more to the times when your mum was well and happy. Thanks to your blog, your readers feel they knew her, and we are all walking with you now. A few days before the anniversary of Dad’s death, my friend Alison lost her mum, and in the last few weeks, the two of us have walked for miles among woods and sand dunes, despite rain, wind and fast fading light, and returned home with renewed energy and hope.


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