Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

December 2008

This months News



Nature Notes

Dark December has now come, and brought with him the shortest day and longest night.  He turns the mist-like rain into ice with the breath of his nostrils; and with cold that pierces to the very bones, drives the shivering and homeless beggar to seek shelter in the deserted shed ….  Even the houses with their frosted windows have a wintry look, and the iron knocker of the door, curved with hoary rime, seems to cut the fingers like a knife when it is touched.

Chambers Book of Days, 1864

It seems the only highlight of December is the Christmas celebrations, bringing with it Christmas decorations.  Holly and ivy have been the mainstay of decoration since at least the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when they are mentioned in many churchwarden’s accounts, although ivy was viewed with some suspicion and care must be taken not to let ivy be used alone, or even predominate, as it is a plant of bad omen and could prove injurious.  There are records dating back to the 17th century that mention decoration using laurel, box, bay, and rosemary.  But care must be taken not to bring in yew, the tree of the graveyard , into your house because superstition has it that if you do you will have a death in the family before the end of the year.

During these long grey days my thanks go to Ruth Gibson who brought a touch, or should it be a flash, of colour into my mind.  She reports that for several days over the last couple of weeks she has been watching a kingfisher perching on a statue at the side of her pond.  One afternoon she drove her car into the drive, closely passing the perching kingfisher, garaged her car, and walked past it into the house without it attempting to fly away.  Kingfishers used to be seen regularly darting along our brook, but for the last two years I have not managed to see one and was getting slightly concerned.  Folklore has it that only the righteous ever see the kingfisher, so perhaps that’s the answer!  If you are lucky enough to see one, all you usually see is a lightning flash of brilliant azure blue, then gone.  Also most people don’t realise this little bird is no bigger than a sparrow and spends most of its time sitting quietly on a branch, just above the water line.  However brief your sighting of a kingfisher has been, it will leave a lasting impression and a frequently a sense of joy and privilege.

In Greek mythology, Alcyone was the goddess of Life-in-Death and a manifestation of the moon goddess.  She had the power to calm winds and protect seafarers from storms.  Zeus drowned Alcyone’s husband Ceyx, and Alcyone mad with grief plunged into the sea to die with her husband, but they re-emerged as Halcyon birds – kingfishers – who were able to charm the winds and waves into a state of calm, hence “halcyon days”.   Thank you Ruth for giving me the lead to relate this charming myth.

We take our parish churches for granted, yet they mark out the countryside and towns in remarkable ways.  Built to command respect and awe and draw the eye to the heavens, today they still form impressive landmarks.  It has been proven that migrating birds use them as navigational points and it is said that the eye can travel the length of the country from tower top to tower top.  They form an integral part of the nature of the land and our stone churches play host to more than a third of all lichens present in Britain.  They provide nest sites to our barn owls (often called church owls), kestrels, even peregrine falcons.  Swallows and bats make a home in them along with bugs and beetles too numerous to mention.  When we buried my father-in-law, a true countryman, the swallows nesting in the porch came in during the service and flew round the church over his coffin; he would have loved that.  A very good book on church and churchyard wildlife is God’s Acre by Francesca Greenoak (which may now be out of print, but I am sure second-hand copies can still be found).

So it is with sadness that I have to report to those of you who don’t already know, that the wonderful imposing Victorian gothic lantern that hung over our church porch has been removed because it kept shorting the electrics throughout the church.  The cost of bringing this beautiful lantern up to current electrical specification may be too much for the PCC, especially as they are having to renew the oil tank.  It would be a great shame to lose this lantern.  Surely we can raise whatever monies are needed to restore and reinstate this lantern. 

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: December 15, 2008