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Old news I’m afraid. I didn’t write about it at the time as it took the wind out of my sails, a wind which continued to be taken away by other circumstances. And now they’ve found out it may have been an arson attack by the disgruntled, dismissed ex-chef. That someone can torch a building as ancient and special beggars belief.

It was very dark and very early on Christmas Eve morning. I was scraping out the cow palace with the bobcat when I saw Olly running up the feed barriers, I stopped,
“What’s up?” I called out
“I can smell burning. Toxic burning I think…you know, plastic, rubber or something.” He shouted over his shoulder, not stopping.
‘Uh-oh’ I thought ‘the chimneys…’ jumped off the bobcat and went in the opposite direction.

As part of our energy-saving-lean-time measures we are trying to use our two woodburners and our own wood only for heating this year. Despite a myriad of safe guards, as well as the stoves having been expertly and carefully installed, along with their own insulated flues (meticulously cleaned every year), I find myself worrying sometimes as we do have a thatch roof. And as we’ve never had the stoves burning continuously in the past I feel the risk is slightly increased.

But all looked damply darkly peaceful over the farmhouse and I could just make out pale coils of grey-white wood smoke rising languidly from the chimneys into the dense blackness. There was, however, an unpleasantly acrid tang in the air.
“Did you see anything?” I called
“Na, nothing.”
“Maybe someone getting rid of a toxic burn under the cover of darkness…duh, and that’s a very stupid thing to say.” I remonstrate with myself  “Far more likely to be seen at night!”

So we get on with the morning chores.

I’m coming in for breakfast, and Olly calls down
“It’s the George!”
“What’s the George?”
“The burning, the smell…the George burnt down.”
“What? No! You mean our George? It can’t have. No, it’s impossible. The George? Are you sure? Quick, let me see.”
I dash upstairs to look at the news on his pc – and there it is the horror, the devastation, the ferocity. I’m speechless. It seems unbelievable.
Will interrupts “I saw it! Late last night when I went out. I saw this great orange glow in the sky. I thought there must have been some new or festive lighting put up in Hatherleigh.”
Well in a way there was, though under no circumstances could it be called festive.

It’s amazing how much the obliteration of a building has affected the community. ‘For god’s sake it just a building…’ I expect people are thinking. And yes, that’s right, it is; but it’s one of Hatherleigh’s most ancient; after all it’s been in existence in some form or other since the 10th century.

The George was unwittingly the heart of the community, of Hatherleigh, and like most hearts it was taken for granted, occasionally worried about if it wobbled, but also worked hard and cheerfully for countless festivities (Robert and I celebrated our marriage there). It stood as an emblem and gave the town its distinctiveness; now all that’s left is a gaping blackened hole surrounded by depressingly forlorn crumbling cob. The heart no longer beating.

Did I hear someone shout “Bring back the stocks!”?

christmas eve carols hatherleigh town square 24 dec 08

christmas eve carols hatherleigh town square 24 dec 08

So where have I been? What blanket of fug was thrown over my head rendering me silent? The first was the same as for many of you, I shouldn’t be surprised…The Cold (of the virus type)! The second is slightly more distressing…

My slip-sliding into pre-Christmas panic disappeared and unabashed childish excitement and joy took over; our family arriving, friends popping round, unexpected invitations and out-of-the-blue visitors.

The tree twinkled in the warm firelit glow of the sitting room; banisters, mantels and pictures were decorated with binds of evergreen; mistletoe decked doorway and beam whilst freshly woven wreaths festooned the doors.

All was ready – larder shelves burdened festive goodies – ham, turkey and goose; Christmas puddings, mince pies and Christmas cake; nougats, navettes, glace fruits and marrons from France; cranberries, clementines, nuts and chocolate. I was all set to feed the army descending on us for the next ten days. But I hadn’t bargained on The Cold.

Olly, first to succumb to The Cold just before Christmas, was surprised to find he became worse rather than better. Will arrived home with the London strain. Camille brought the French version with her over the channel, her temperature soaring on Christmas Eve. The next in the firing line was me – whilst cooking Christmas dinner (naturally). Then it was Berengere. With rapid and single-minded intent it worked its way through us all. We had the added frisson of the more exotic, as our friends from across the Atlantic added their contribution to the melting pot. This was fast becoming virus heaven!

‘Hey bro –how ya doin’? Gi me five!’

‘Aw’rite mate. Didn’t ‘spec you ‘ere. Aint ‘alf bad – oi mean look at these fekking geezers…!’

‘Pardon…I ‘ave not zee Englieesh…mais oui, ici, c’est trez bon. ‘Ow you say? Bloodee marvellous!’

‘Good to see you all in this neck of the woods. The frog’s right when ‘e says it’s bloody marvellous. Never seen such a cosmopolitan gathering. Here’s one for united nations and entente cordial!

The viruses rub their hands in glee at the prospect of increasing their kith and kin by 500,000 billion in the next few days. They high five and in unison stream forward to launch their attack; bookies shout the odds on favourites, and humans didn’t stand a chance!

sharing a quiet moment - two poorly people - camille and paula

sharing a quiet moment - two poorly people - camille and paula

Yesterday, sadly, the house emptied. Today, as I gather up pine needles, escaped shreds of wrapping paper, broken toys, cracker jokes, squashed mince pies and baskets full of holiday detritus, I stop as I seem to the whole time at the moment to gaze out at the frost-sparkling countryside. Do you know we haven’t had a drop of rain for over ten days? I can scarcely believe it.

The more distressing part two tomorrow…

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

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