Vandalism in the Churchyard


I live in a large-ish village just outside a small city somewhere towards the east of England.  To protect the guilty, let’s call it the village of Glimmer1.  It has the usual features of village life; a pub, a village hall, a Post Office (now complete with a small supermarket), three small housing estates, two schools, a manor house, a playing field, and – of course – a church.  The church has a little churchyard surrounded by a stone wall, and filled with graves and trees and stone angels and so on.

When we walked our two dogs this morning, we noticed some Unusual Activity in the churchyard.  It turned out to be tree felling.  Some safety-helmeted men were blithely chopping down a small row of yews.

I handed Sid’s leash to OH and stomped across the road to find out what the heck they were doing and why.

Me:  ‘What are you DOING??’

1st Man: ‘Cutting down these trees!’

Me: ‘But why?”

1st Man: ‘Give you a better view of the church’

2nd Man: ‘It’ll be looovely!’

Me: ‘It’s vandalism!  Who decided to do that?’

1st Man: ‘The Parish Council … ‘

2nd Man: ‘… and the Church …’

1st Man: ‘.. and me.’

Me: ‘But they’re yews.  This is a churchyard.  You can’t cut … it’s … they’re meant to be here!’

1st Man (with an air of playing the trump): ‘But they’re not Historic‘.

Me: ‘They will be, if you leave them long enough!’

1st Man: ‘They’re damaging the wall!’

I looked at the wall.  It looked fine.  Totally undamaged, from where I stood.

1st Man: ‘And the gravestones!’

I looked over the wall.  I could see some fairly undamaged-looking gravestones about a metre away from the base of one of the trees.  Undamaged, considering their age, that is.

1st Man (tugging feebly at some ivy): ‘Look! We’ve found some gravestones, hidden away in here!’

Me: ‘Well, finding gravestones has some value, to a genealogist, I have to admit.  But it’s still vandalism.’

1st Man (firmly): They found a photograph.  There were soldiers walking past – WW1 soldiers – and the trees were not there then!’

Me (believing that if you give a man enough silence he’ll feel obliged to fill it):  ‘…?’

1st Man (falling neatly into my trap): There was just a hedge.  A yew hedge.  It went all along here.’

Me: ‘And are they going to replace the hedge?  The Historic hedge?’

1st Man: ‘ Uh … ‘

2nd Man: ‘ … No’.

1st Man: ‘But these trees .. these trees are not Historic.  They weren’t in the photo!’

Me: ‘By that logic, neither are the forest of signs up the school road’.

1st Man (and I kid you not): ‘Yeah, but you need a different kind of saw for that’.

So, we are going to be left with a bald churchyard so that people can see the church from the west. This ignores the fact that there are trees on the village green, which is just to the west of the church. You’d have to be practically leaning on the wall to get a view of the church from that side for half the year.  There are still yews on the other side, too, obscuring the view from the east.  These guys had no instructions about those yews, so those yews are going to be allowed to live… for now.

We – the villagers – were naturally not consulted.

English Churchyards traditionally have yews, and they have become havens for wildlife,   partly because they have yews.  Well-maintained yews are amazingly good at both sheltering and feeding wildlife – the pulp of the yew fruit being the only non-poisonous part of the tree.  Birds eat those and poop out the toxic seeds.  Mice nibble at them and leave the seeds.  Foxes, snakes and raptors come after the mice and small birds.  Hedgehogs probably find the thick, dark leafy bases very cosy places in winter – especially if the tree is close to a wall. And in spring, birds nest in them.

But our churchyard has to be ‘tidied’ and ‘cleaned’ to conform to a photograph someone found and thought it would be nice to recreate in the name of ‘remembrance’. Well, colour me pissed.

OH said later that he thought we ought to start a rumour.  He said we should tell the two most noted gossips in the village (who shall be nameless) that we’d found evidence that those trees had been planted as a memorial to the soldiers who died in the First World War.  And we spent a few minutes happily wondering what kind of furore that would cause … until I pointed out that if they’d been planted as a memorial, there would surely be an entry in the Parish Records to that effect.

We wouldn’t have done it anyway of course, but, as they say, ‘it’s better to light a candle than to sit in the darkness and weep’.

Or was that ‘it’s better to light a fire under someone’s backside than suffer in silence’?
1 Which is not its real name.

It’s never dull with OH


We are both still suffering with this Hideous Virus, so we are languishing at home, apart from the odd shopping trip and unavoidable outings like walking the dogs and so on.  You’d think, perhaps, that conversation would flag.  You’d be wrong.

Coming out of Morriways the other day with a laden trolley, OH pushing for a change, the following took place:

Me (rushing forward a few paces, but a little too late to stop a large pack of Cushelle plummeting to the ground): ‘Aargh!  Wait, wait!’

OH (looking at me sternly as if it were my fault): ‘Those toilet rolls are Errant!’

Me: Ahahahahahahahahahaha!’

OH: What?

Me:  Errant!  Errant toilet rolls!’

OH: Well … well … well, it’s a good word!  That’s twice they’ve tried to throw themselves off the trolley!’

And it’s true. There are some things that, no matter how carefully you balance them atop your carefully stacked trolley, will always unbalance themselves and try to get lost, or trip someone up.  I wondered briefly what would happen if I took them back inside and tried to exchange them for a better-behaved pack, citing OH’s complaint about their willful nature.  I decided against it on the basis that we’ll probably want to shop there again in the not-too-distant future.

We got them home without further mishaps and I’ve shut them in the spare room, but a part of me still wonders if, next time I look, they’ll have climbed the bookshelf or be found nestling cosily among the empty cardboard boxes and padded envelopes in the ‘Might Come In Handy To Post Things In’ pile.  Or perhaps I’ll meet them halfway down the stairs in the middle of the night.

Maybe that’s why public toilets have theirs locked into special toilet roll prisons and attached securely to the walls.  They’re fed up with the damn things throwing themselves to the floor and going off for a wander.

Brickbats and Bouquets


It occurs to me often that people are very quick to throw brickbats1, but seldom offer bouquets.

Years ago now, there was a women’s magazine that I used to read which had a section on the letters page where people were invited to nominate someone who had gone above and beyond the call of duty. The story would be published in just a couple of paragraphs and the magazine would send a bouquet to the nominee. One might be a hairdresser, for example, who had stayed late to make sure that a client had the perfect hair for an important occasion. Another might be a dustman who had bothered to bring the empty bins inside a property for an elderly person and tuck them away tidily instead of leaving them in the middle of the path outside. You get the idea.

I can’t remember what they actually called this section, but the paragraph which described it said something along the lines of:

“We are all so quick to throw brickbats when someone has annoyed us, but seldom bother to send a bouquet to those who have made us smile.  Today, Mrs X of Anytown would like to nominate …”

And it’s so true. We grumble about things that happen in our daily lives. We send angry letters, and we ring the management, and complain to the newspaper, or the next door neighbour, or the lady in the Post Office, and we criticise freely.  But how often do we take the time to actually thank someone properly, let alone write letters of commendation?

Since reading that magazine, I’ve tried to make a point of doing that, when I think of it. This morning, for instance, while I was at the doctor’s surgery for my appointment, I called at the medicines collection counter to thank the pharmacist for sorting out my husband’s inexplicably delayed prescription so that he had it on Christmas Eve instead of having to wait until after the holidays.  Her face lit up, and she smiled and thanked me for bothering to call in and do that. It’s such a simple thing, and it cost me nothing, and yet it brightened her day just a little bit.

Once you start to think along these lines, it’s amazing what you see. Do you know how many people go through supermarket checkouts without even making eye contact with the person behind the till?  Is it any wonder so many of them look terminally depressed?  Imagine how much it would change someone’s day if everyone smiled and thanked them.

Even though I am aware of all this, I’m conscious that I don’t do it enough, so I think that maybe this will be what passes for my New Year resolution: I will make more of an effort to connect with people, particularly people in service jobs – waiters & waitresses, till operators, bank clerks, bus drivers etc – and simply thank people when they deserve it. Maybe a good thing to do would be to send people a thank you card in the post in the old-fashioned way if they perform their duties extra-well … or better yet, write to their manager and let them know?

What do you do? Drop any ideas in to the comments box, and let’s see what we can come up with.

1 For my non-native English speaking friends or those too young to know this one, a brickbat is a piece of brick or stone used as a missile. If you pick up half a brick and aim it at someone’s head – so tempting sometimes, I know – that’s a brickbat.