A Christmas Rehearsal

On a dull, blustery, yet mild, morning I took a stroll along Hordle Lane to Apple Court House and back. Bordering the drive to the house bergenia and primulas are blooming, on this, our shortest day of the year.BergeniaPrimulasThatched roofOwl decoy
A motionless long-eared owl, no doubt on the lookout for small mammals, perches atop the newly, beautifully, thatched roof of a house on which Hallmark builders have been working for a week or so. Thatching is one of the country crafts still thriving in England. It is the practise of builders to place a decoy, usually of the avian variety, in order to deter other birds from grubbing around for insects, or nicking material for their nests.
Doing a little Googling in a rather unsuccessful attempt to check my facts, I found, which is not unusual, one of my own photographs on an information site. Just as my introduction to the owl above is one of my sad little jokes, so was that picture. Instead of describing a genuine decoy as a live creature, I likened a living pigeon to a thatcher’s creation.
Another of my photos, also used, portrays the skeletons of decoy ducks that have themselves lost their plumage to scavengers. I wonder how long it will take for my owl to grace a twitcher’s website. My Lesser Antillean Bullfinch does, after all, with my permission, grace Fatbirder’s Barbados page.
This afternoon we drove to Helen and Bill’s home in Poulner for a Christmas dinner with them and Shelley and Ron. We enjoyed a superb roast venison meal with roast potatoes and parsnips; and a full range of vegetables cooked by Helen. The gravy was delicious. Iced Christmas pudding and sherry trifle were the sweets, followed by cheese and biscuits, coffee and mints. My choice from the available beverages was a very good malbec. Apparently venison was, in earlier times, a traditional Christmas roast. In Dickens’s time, as described in ‘A Christmas Carol’,  goose was the festive meat. One topic of our conversation centred on the even earlier, Tudor, practice of stuffing smaller birds inside larger ones. A swan, we believed, would contain a goose, which held a chicken, into which a duck would be pressed, and that in turn would house a quail; thus forming something like a set of culinary Russian dolls. Obviously only the very rich could afford such a banquet.
An exchange of presents, thus forming a Christmas rehearsal, took place afterwards. As was normal in the Rivett household in which the sisters had grown up, Helen followed their father’s practice of providing a large plastic bag for ‘herk’. This was a word he had coined for discarded wrapping paper that otherwise would have been flung excitedly to all corners of the living room.
Later, we took a break in our session of The Name Game, to squeeze in tea or more coffee and delicious homemade mince pies and/or shortbread. In this game one person represents a character that may or may not be human, real, or fictional. The others, within 20 questions, each of which must be answerable by ‘yes’ or ‘no’, must guess the identity. I might, when I was Arsene Wenger, not have misled my questioners had I known his true nationality. But they didn’t hold it against me. This was fun, as was the whole event.
Water was the only sustenance required when Jackie and I returned home.
P.S. Later this evening, Jackie did some further Googling on the subject of the owl, There doesn’t seem to be any real consensus on the term or the purpose of what I have called ‘decoys’, although my term is probably incorrect. The most consistent name is ‘finials’, and they could simply be decoration serving as a signature of the thatcher. Whilst ‘decoy’ may be incorrect I do like the deterrent idea. Here is the text of Jackie’s observations:

Not called decoys by thatchers (decoy ducks are used by hunters I believe) but known as straw finials, they are a west country tradition that came from decorating hay stacks and corn stacks, used on roofs since at least the 17th Cent, I found an East Anglian thatcher who advertises that altho’ straw finials are a west country tradition he is willing to incorporate them if the costumer should desire it!

P.P.S. Barrie Haynes has sent me an equally enlightening comment: Most surprised to see a thatcher has placed an owl on a roof as when I was a child, many of the old New Forest people (my mother was a ‘Cooke’ from Emerydown) thought owls anywhere near the house brought bad luck!


  1. Well, I can not get over how warm it is there. The next time I go to England, I am going to stay out of London and explore the countryside. I so want to see a thatched house.

Leave a Reply