This column originally appeared in the January 2017 edition of the Mendip Times
New Year was never something I got excited about, although I can understand why many people do. A new beginning, new opportunities and a blank sheet of paper may be some of the ways to describe the onset of 2017. As always we will look back at what has happened in 2016. Lots of re-runs on the major moments of the year, and yes I think there have been some this time. How will those develop in 2017 and what New Year Resolutions did you keep in 2016? I have managed one. At long last I have kept a daily work record all year, and noticed some comments on January 1 2016; “Will spend a day a month on office work, a day a week on the house/ garden and a day a week for me”! Well that didn’t all pan out, but does it matter? I’m happy doing what I’m doing, and I will do it for as long as I can. Simple… New Years Resolution 2017 sorted.
Christmas and New Year are about tradition. Tradition is something we do very well in this country. The blend of our four home countries culture that comes together to produce the “British” brand known the world over. History and tradition are as much a part of our Gross National Product as industry and commerce in today’s world. It always pleases me when I find another ‘hardy annual’ that has been in place for a while. Some ‘traditions’ do not have the lineage of centuries, but give them time and they might well have. I was invited to one such event recently.
The ‘Leg-O-Mutton’ supper has been running in Chew Magna for over 45 years. It began, as I believe, in the days of the livestock market in Winford. Not the livestock centre that has now been converted, but the site that is now covered in houses opposite the Duke of Wellington pub. It has been said that as much trading,( if not more) was done in the pub at lunch time on market day as in the market itself. You have to be of a certain age to remember this market! So, back to the story… It would appear that a farmer was trying to bid up the price on one of his sheep and in doing so got a little carried away. The upshot of this was he ended up with no money and an animal that would not sell. The answer to this problem was to get together with a few friends and eat the poor beast. So began a supper that is still attended by many from those early days. The tables groan with bottles of the finest alcoholic stimulant, whilst the meal is served up with locally grown produce, a very tasty Caper sauce and plenty of gravy. This Mendip Man’s night out is straight from the pages of Charles Dickens’ Mr Pickwick and his Pickwick Club. Simple food , good company and something just a little bit different. Thank you to all those there that night who welcomed us newcomers,(including the Mendip Times Editor) and thank you Roger Penny for inviting me!
Many other traditions have their origins in this time of year. Winter was cold and hard, as it still can be today. Very little could be done on the land and before the advent of winter fodder most animals would have been slaughtered as there was simply not enough food to feed them. Insurance policies were therefore at the front of most folks mind. Insurance policies with the pagan gods that is. Leave nothing to chance with your cattle and crops for the coming year with the ‘Wassail’. Now generally associated with the cider apple crop, this pagan tradition which literally translates from Saxon as “Health be unto you”, covered just about everything that was important to an agricultural economy. You recognised everything that supported your life and you drank it’s health.
If you haven’t been to a Wassail ,or if you would like to go again, there will be plenty of celebrations around the old Twelfth night of January 17. The Mendip Society will be holding one in conjunction with the Rickford Community Association at the Rickford Community Orchard near the Plume of Feathers pub, BS40 7AH starting at 6.00pm. Its free but donations to the group of players who will be in attendance will be gratefully received. If you would like to know more ring 01275 874284. I will shall be acting as Master of Ceremony on the evening to help guide everyone through.
Have you decided to add extra exercise onto your New Year ‘to do list’? Well if you have ,( and you will note that the words “New Year Resolution” have been omitted) then spare some thought for the wildlife who’s problem is not so much loosing weight as putting it on. Whilst planting a new hedgerow recently, I had as two of my companions a Robin and a Wren. Both of them useless with a spade, but when it came to taking advantage of my hard work these guys knew their stuff. They would watch in great anticipation until I had past on from planting, to swoop down and go over the ground in minute detail, capturing every bit of food stuff possible. Life in the wild is a daily struggle for survival, which thankfully we do not have to experience in quite the same way. Also in the same paddock beneath the ageing apple tree a Fieldfare was spending all his time chasing off the Blackbirds that had also come to feed on the fallen apples. This poor fellow was expending a massive amount of time and energy in seeing off any other competition and spending no time at all feeding himself. I think there could be a moral in this story for us all.
And finally! Have a great New Year and celebrate it in anyway that makes you happy. Keep your family about you with plenty of love and laughter. Value your friends and never be afraid to say sorry.. and mean it. Have a thought for those who have gone before us so that we might enjoy our freedom, and above all, have a Great New Year!
I didn’t give you a Christmas card this time, so here it is for New Year