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20 August: Gilbert White V, Harvest Mice

Harvest mouse by Hendrik Osadnik

White depended upon correspondence with other gentlemen researchers to further his researches – and theirs. He contributed to the identification of the harvest mouse as a separate species. ‘Nondescript’ here means not having its description recorded in a scientific publication. Two inches is about 5 cm.

I have procured some of the mice mentioned in my former letters, a young one and a female with young, both of which I have preserved in brandy.  From the colour, shape, size, and manner of nesting, I make no doubt but that the species is nondescript.  They are much smaller, and more slender, than the mus domesticus medius of Ray, and have more of the squirrel or dormouse colour; their belly is white, a straight line along their sides divides the shades of their back and belly.  They never enter into houses; are carried into ricks and barns with the sheaves, abound in harvest; and build their nests amidst the straws of the corn above the ground, and sometimes in thistles.  They breed as many as eight at a litter, in a little round nest composed of the blades of grass or wheat.

One of these nests I procured this autumn, most artificially platted, and composed of the blades of wheat, perfectly round, and about the size of a cricket ball, with the aperture so ingeniously closed, that there was no discovering to what part it belonged.  It was so compact and well filled, that it would roll across the table without being discomposed, though it contained eight little mice that were naked and blind.  As this nest was perfectly full, how could the dam come at her litter respectively, so as to administer a teat to each?  Perhaps she opens different places for that purpose, adjusting them again when the business is over; but she could not possibly be contained herself in the ball with her young, which moreover would be daily increasing in bulk.  This wonderful procreant cradle, an elegant instance of the efforts of instinct, was found in a wheat-field suspended in the head of a thistle.

Letter xiii

As to the small mice, I have farther to remark, that though they hang their nests for breeding up amidst the straws of the standing corn, above the ground, yet I find that, in the winter, they burrow deep in the earth, and make warm beds of grass: but their grand rendezvous seems to be in corn-ricks, into which they are carried at harvest.  A neighbour housed an oat-rick lately, under the thatch of which were assembled nearly a hundred, most of which were taken, and some I saw.  I measured them, and found that, from nose to tail, they were just two inches and a quarter, and their tails just two inches long.  Two of them, in a scale, weighed down just one copper halfpenny, which is about the third of an ounce avoirdupois: so that I suppose they are the smallest quadrupeds in this island.  A full-grown Mus medius domesticus weighs, I find, one ounce lumping weight, which is more than six times as much as the mouse above; and measures from nose to rump four inches and a quarter, and the same in its tail. 

Zwergmaus (Micromys minutus), fotografiert 9/2005 von Hendrik Osadnik

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16 August: Gilbert White I, living comfortably.

We have read how Samuel Johnson encouraged friends to make detailed personal observation, scientific enquiry in other words. No-one appears to have found this activity anti-Christian or against Bible teaching. Gilbert White of Selborne, Hampshire, was an Anglican curate who observed the Natural History of his parish and shared his discoveries with friends in letters that became his book, The Natural History of Selborne. WE celebrate his tercentenary this summer. Our first selection comes from letters to Thomas Pennant, himself an associate of Johnson.

England, in the second half of the eighteenth century was much more rigidly divided by class than today. Many countrymen, out of doors in all weathers, and not unobservant, were illiterate and unschooled, so were unable to contribute as much to the growth of knowledge than if they had received an education. However some parishioners did help White by bringing specimens or telling their curate about a sight worthy of his attention.

LETTERS TO THOMAS PENNANT, ESQUIRE. V

The village of Selborne, and large hamlet of Oakhanger, with the single farms, and many scattered houses along the verge of the forest, contain upwards of six hundred and seventy inhabitants.

We abound with poor, many of whom are sober and industrious, and live comfortably in good stone or brick cottages, which are glazed, and have chambers above stairs; mud buildings we have none.  Besides the employment from husbandry, the men work in hop-gardens, of which we have many, and fell and bark timber.  In the spring and summer the women weed the corn, and enjoy a second harvest in September by hop-picking.  Formerly, in the dead months they availed themselves greatly by spinning wool, for making of barragons, a genteel corded stuff, much in vogue at that time for summer wear, and chiefly manufactured at Alton, a neighbouring town, by some of the people called Quakers; but from circumstances this trade is at an end.  The inhabitants enjoy a good share of health and longevity; and the parish swarms with children.

Notice that the villagers live in good stone or brick cottages, and that White feels the need to remark upon the fact. The field above is sown with maize using a seed drill, invented by Jethro Tull. It made hoeing the crop easier and less wasteful, but imagine hoeing that field all day!

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16 August: Quite contented for myself.

Apricots are not likely to be picked in Haworth

I am quite contented for myself: not as idle as formerly, altogether as hearty, and having learnt to make the most of the present and long for the future with the fidgetiness that I cannot do all that I wish; seldom or never trouble with nothing to do, and merely desiring that everybody could be as comfortable as myself and as undesponding, and then we should have a very tolerable world of it … Anne and I should have picked black-currants if it had been fine and sunshiny. I must hurry off now to my turning and ironing.

Emily Bronte, 30 July 1841.

Emily Bronte wrote this in Haworth parsonage, Yorkshire, on her 23rd Birthday. I could not truthfully have claimed to be quite contented at that age, though I would do so nowadays. Emily accepted and was comfortable with picking black-currants, turning and ironing; and while fruit picking on a domestic scales has changed little in 179 years, ironing was an altogether more arduous task. As, in its own way, was writing.

Maybe we still need to keep on learning to make the most of the present; and that means being thankful: examining ourselves at the end of the day to realise what the present has brought us today. (I picked fresh salad on the sunshiny day I wrote this, and brought it home to share; we didn’t know then what sort of apricot harvest to expect.)

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2 August: Dr Johnson visits Lichfield.

Dr Johnson statue, Lichfield, Staffordshire.

Last winter I went down to my native town, where I found the streets much narrower and shorter than I thought I had left them, inhabited by a new race of people, to whom I was very little known. My play-fellows were grown old, and forced me to suspect that I was no longer young. My only remaining friend has changed his principles, and was become the tool of the predominant faction. My daughter-in-law, from whom I expected most, and whom I met with sincere benevolence, has lost the beauty and gaiety of youth, without having gained much of the wisdom of age. I wandered about for five days, and took the first convenient opportunity of returning to a place, where, if there is not much happiness, there is, at least, such a diversity of good and evil, that slight vexations do not fix upon the heart. I think in a few weeks to try another excursion; though to what end?

Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765 by James Boswell

Here speaks the melancholic Samuel Johnson, tired of life but not of London, even if there is not much happiness there.

Image:

Sourcehttps://www.flickr.com/photos/ell-r-brown/3672680073/
AuthorElliot Brown

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31 July Going Viral XLIII: Home

Whilst away last week we were asked if this felt like home, and the answer is very much yes it does; What makes a home? When we moved here, we brought our home with us and left the house behind. There is that saying, home is where your heart is – and how very true that is; you take with you all those bits and pieces that mean so much, familiar things but also that sense of love, and of making it home; a place of welcome.

We had anticipated (pre-covid) having our second garden party this weekend – many of you joined us last year for Pimms on the patio and cream teas. When all this started back in March, I (foolishly ) thought – oh it will all be fine by July, we can still have our garden party! Not to be – so let’s hope for next year. This has also been an opportunity for many of us to worship at home – it has been from my study at home every week for the last four months that I have streamed the Eucharist, morning and evening prayer, and likewise John and Brian have been leading worship from their homes. Homes are very special places, places where we feel safe and secure, though remaining mindful that for some they are places where folk feel less secure and unsafe.


I am reminded of Jesus’ words Matthew 7:24-27: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

God Bless, and keep safe, keep connected and keep praying. Jo🙏🙏🙏
Rev Jo Richards Rector of the Benefice of St Dunstan, St Mildred and St Peter, Canterbury.

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5 July: Satisfaction and things.

As our means increase, so do our desires; and we ever stand midway between the two. When we reside in an attic we enjoy a supper of fried fish and stout. When we occupy the first floor it takes an elaborate dinner at the Continental to give us the same amount of satisfaction.

From Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome. The attic, of course, held the pokiest, worst-planned rooms in the boarding houses where the relatively poor Jerome was living at this period of his life. I trust he could still have enjoyed fish and chips from Peter’s Fish Factory in Margate. The 5,000 were content with bread and fish by the lakeside – but not for long! Let us be grateful for what we have been given, and always thank God for our food, spoken or silently.

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20 June: A walk around Fredville Park and Barfrestone.

On the occasion of our Ruby Wedding, Mrs Turnstone and I took a walk around the country park belonging to Fredville House. This is still working farmland, but the trees have been planted over the last 300 years and more to create a pleasing classical landscape. Our walk took us through the park and back in by one of the gatekeeper’s lodges, then returning to the park and out by another lodge. We were now in Frogham with its redbrick cottages, but we pressed on along a short stretch of the North Downs Way, past the new, far from lowly cattle shed and into the village of Barfrestone. We caught a glimpse through the hedge of the house where we met, the Old Rectory, then visited the graves of L’Arche friends, and into the old churchyard, admiring one stone in particular, noticing the gardener and St Thomas over the door of the ancient church of Saint Nicholas. After a picnic on the grass, one last look at the rectory, and home to Canterbury.

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25 May: Keeping on keeping on.

Eddie walks in the same bluebell woods as the family Turnstone

Eddie Gilmore of the Irish chaplaincy in London describes how he was coping with the discipline of working from home and not going up to the office. Read the whole article here.

My life in lockdown has become a bit monastic, and there’s a lot I like about that. There’s quite a nice, simple balance of work, prayer, meals, reading, recreation (much of that in the form of walking or cycling). I’m a bit more tuned in than usual to the subtle but magical changes in the natural world: the colours and the smells, the times of the day when the birds sing more loudly, the wonderful sight in the sky a few nights ago of a crescent moon underneath a brightly shining Venus.

Thank you Eddie for allowing us to use your writings! There will be a barbecue to end all this enforced confinement, but even now, let your heart be unconfined!

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26 April: None but the brave, 2.

Image result for road signs old people crossing

Of course yesterday’s tale turns out to be a bit more complicated than that, but there is some reassurance in the unfolding story.

Twice more I saw Mrs K in Station Road, once on the arm of a young man, the other escorted by a young woman who was just settling her into her chair as I entered the shop; I had the impression that this was not the first time she’d performed this service. Mrs K once again got her shopping list out, written on a tiny sheet torn from a spiral note pad. A different assistant began quartering the aisles and was soon finding her groceries, while the security man walked across to greet her.

Once again, thank you to the staff of our little local supermarket!

Then a couple of weeks after writing yesterday’s post, I was chatting to a neighbour who is an Anglican, and he asked me what I knew about Jane from our church: was she safe? Jane – with the little dog? I knew that she was ill indoors. Not that Jane – he described Mrs K in a few words and a gesture. ‘I always call her Mrs K, I said, seeing her as the generation before me, and to be addressed formally till asked to do otherwise.’

Neighbour Nick had gone home with her, seen that she was up two flights of stairs, nowhere to keep a walking trolley, no way she could get it upstairs, what did the church know about it?

Plenty, as it happened; I was told by another old lady that Mrs K is fiercely independent, gets a taxi to Mass, attends a few meetings, is in regular contact with her two children and has no intention of moving, thank you all very much indeed.

She is clean, rational (except about her personal safety, perhaps) and feeds herself, is no doubt the despair of her daughters, but living her life and faith as she chooses. Deprived of her own home unnecessarily she would not be happy. It’s not time for that yet.

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8 April, Desert XXXVIII: Enforced exile.

Adam, the first exile.

In 1943, Archbishop Spellman, a former colleague of Pius XII at the Vatican Secretariat of State, visited Ethiopia, which with allied help had defeated the Italian invaders who had overrun the country some years before and planted the beginnings of a colony there. People were sent to create a new Roman Empire in this ‘open country’.

Spellman discovered that many colonists were unhappy with their part in Mussolini’s venture. He met a family who had been exiled from their own home when they were taken as colonisers to Africa.

‘The father of this family told me that the grief he suffered in being taken from his home was renewed and redoubled, when he watched the officers drive another family from their home, to make room for him in a strange land’. And now he and his family were returning to an uncertain future.1

Who knows what became of that family, returning to a famished Italy? Their story is not so far from those of so many displaced people today, exiled even if living in a land flowing with milk and honey and all good things. ‘If I forget you Jerusalem … let my right hand wither.’ Yet who can survive, consumed with bitterness?

1 Francis J. Spellman: Action This Day. Letters from the Fighting Fronts. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943. p169.

Image from West window, Canterbury, thanks to SJC.

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