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 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.
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 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.
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.