Richard Lutz joins a food queue and ponders the mistletoe.
In case you’re wondering, that headline is from Lenin. And, boy oh boy, the old Red with the cool goatee got it about right when it comes to this last fortnight of 2020.
I queue for food during Lockdown. And at the same time, wait to loosen ourselves from the grip of Brussels (or fall into the abyss depending on your take on the whole Brexit shebang).
The week goes something like this:
There is a little cafe not far from my house. The owner has worked hard for years to build up its name, serve nice food and create a formidable reputation. His pastries are delicious, just like in Paris, here he comes from.
This past summer he expanded and his place became a bustling hotspot for lunch or late breakfast. It was rammed with folks. But Lockdown. Ahhh, the pandemic has shut it down. Now the owner does take away only.
But people still want those pastries. And they know that Rene clears the shelves because demand is high. So folks line up early, so much so that they queue for the doors to open at 8.30 sharp.
And to ensure they get their mitts on the posh food, the hungry customers (like me, in fact) line up outside from 8.15. So, in effect, a food queue forms down the Birmingham street near where I live to get its hands on the great pastries, the tarts, the home-made bread whose fragrances drift down the road. It’s a food queue for well made wee things and the cost is a time frame of waiting, shuffling mindlessly forward and…more waiting in the early winter damp drizzle.
Now, obviously this isn’t a queue of folks trying to fill the stomachs of a large family or someone facing a hungry empty kitchen. The food for sale is brioches, croissants and handmade rye loaves tarted up with caraway seeds. I get inside the cafe and buy the food, an order I can only barely see because my mask creates a cirrus cloud of fog right across my glasses, a complaint that must bother millions of Bespectacled Others with the same disorder – ocular mask deterioration. Lockdown 2020, in effect, is waiting around in foggy glasses and waiting waiting waiting in a misty drizzle for my food of almond tarts, my pain au raisin, that rye with caraway seeds fresh out of the oven.
So, I can’t say this is a food line of necessity. But we all have to have a softer edge to life too, such as pastries in the morning. Life’s troubling right now. It’s going a tad too fast. It all seems to be happening at the same time. Everything. Speeded up. As Lenin wrote: There are decades where nothing happens and then…etc…etc.
And now it seems as if decades are happening each day. After all, if you turn on the TV or radio, if it’s not Pandemic Lockdown in Blighty, it’s that the country is careening toward that Brexit precipice or Blissful Total Freedom. On
the first day of January, Britain is out of Euro-land. And four and half years after voting for this go it alone ‘sovereignty’, there is stil no trade deal; no agreement on fishing rights; or, buying and selling of farm produce.
And, crazily, no decision of how the UK’s Northern Ireland region operates with its shared open border with the Irish Republic to its south. There is talk of some sort of domestic internal checkpoint for border control- its would belike having a border post between, say, Yorkshire and Lancashire. It makes no sense.
And trying to make sense out of something that makes no sense is like being whacked over the head with a bucket of wet cement. It just leaves a pain in the brain from attempting to unravel alot of bad bad decisions – or worse, no decisions. I head for the Clent Hills for respite and care, a bit of r&r in the Midlands.
The Clents are one of three patches of open country that form a chain of hills to the south of Birmingham: The other two are the Lickeys and the Waseley Hills. I like the Clents best. They are where the pretty county of Worcestershire bumps into the mass of Birmingham. It’s a tricksy curvy spine of pasture, sheep fields and heavy woods. For a small compact range of terrain, it’s packed with attractions, such as this uphill march of regal beeches:
Or this silver birch, deep down a cleft, clumped with mistletoe (below):
Worcestershire, in fact, is Mistletoe Country. It hosts an annual mistletoe festival and its accompanying mistletoe auction. There’s even a Mistletoe Queen crowned annually. It’s Mistletoe Central HQ in fact, celebrating this parasitic plant that sucks the maw out of trees for nutrition. It’s the emblem of nearby Herefordshire and – get this – also the state flower of Oklahoma.
Mistletoe is, of course, Christmas and the tradition is you hang a branch of this plant with its poisonous berries above a door and everyone kisses and gets kissed as they walk under it. It usually ends in smiles and laughter. Usually…
But maybe not this year, this year of Lockdown with its rules and laws that are so arcane that everyone tends to interpret them differently.
I mean, you can have an ‘extended family bubble’ just for the holiday season (and this will, in turn, inevitably create a fatality spike in late January) but can you kiss under Worcestershire’s finest export? I am sure this will increase the bursting reservoir of big and little questions that plague us as we try to keep healthy, try to eat well, try to figure out if Brexit is good or bad or will simply end, not with a bang or a whimper, but with muddy compromise after muddy compromise over fishing rights, trade, Irish borders and dispute resolution panels that no one will really understand.