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This England

This England is the quarterly magazine for all who love our green and pleasant land and are unashamedly proud of their English roots. Published since 1968 the magazine has now become one of England’s best loved magazines and has a readership of over 115,000 people from around the world. As well as being popular in England it outsells all other British heritage magazines in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and is sent to readers in every country of the world. Published in Cheltenham, in the heart of picturesque Gloucestershire, the magazine is edited, printed and despatched direct from England. Subscribe today and celebrate all that is best about England and the English way of life.


‘CUSTOMS AND CURIOSITIES OF OXFORD AND CAMBRIDGE’ (continued) Students on Graduation Day in Cambridge and (right) a view of All Souls’ College, Oxford. ANDRIA MASSEY instance, i.e. basically everyone without a scholarship, wear a shorter gown, D. Phil graduates wear a scarlet robe. Examinations are the culmination of many months of studying and where better than in the glorious libraries. When Oxford students are issued with a card for the Bodleian Library they are initiated into a formal admission ceremony, where they have to pledge as follows: “I hereby undertake not to remove from the library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the library; and I promise to obey all rules of the library.” Before the advent of railways, the United Kingdom operated on a number of local times. Oxford time was five minutes later than Greenwich. A lot of university lectures still start at five minutes past the hour, and Christ Church College’s Tom Tower still sounds 101 times every night at 9.05pm (rung 101 times to celebrate the founding scholars of the college). Time, it would seem, can stand still! ADAM JACOT DE BOINOD Adam Jacot de Boinod is the author of The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World, published by Penguin Books. GEORGE MITCHELL ADINA TOVY Christopher Wren’s Tom Tower (see also page 73 in this issue), the Mathematical Bridge at Queens’ College Cambridge, punting on the Cherwell in Oxford. PEARL BUCKNALL DENIS KENNEDY 30 THIS ENGLAND, Winter, 2017 2016

A Winter’s Day in England Centuries ago the sunken lane was an army route and has been ground so deep over time by the passage of tramping feet and carts that the roots of the oldest oaks and chestnut trees, embedded in the banks, are exposed to the air. A tangled hedgerow runs along the top of each high bank, and the fern-brushed slopes are pitted with the holes of rabbits. At dawn on this January morning the lane is still and silent. After days of rain the wind changed to the north and brought a sudden front of cold. In the stillness of the night a frost crept in and took everything firmly within its iron grip. All that had been heavy with dew has now been transformed into crystal. Upon the hedgerows where the last stray hips and haws cling with tenacity, the frost hangs its lace. Beneath the foliage the earth is solid to the touch, and even the crumbling clay path worn by the badger who nightly goes to and from his burrow has been set into stone. Shortly after daybreak a cock pheasant struts leisurely along the frost-bound track, his long elegant tail almost touching the ice. He spent the night roosting in the upper branches of a fir in the valley. Now he steps out boldly, a warm splash of russet and green upon the frost-white canvas. If he survives until early spring he will pair and might be seen accompanying several female pheasants at one time. Pheasants love to nest beneath the hedges, or in a copse or concealed cover. The foraging pheasant will find nourishment in seeds, berries, insects, worms and fruit, but today the frosty banks of the lane yield relatively little. An elderly hare is next along the lane. These creatures seem to know that the early morning is a quiet time when they are unlikely to encounter humans. The hare lopes leisurely along, his padded feet making a soft brushing sound on the ice. He is an elderly bachelor, his breeding days long since gone. There are grey hairs around his mouth and behind his ears and his fur coat has lost its youthful softness and grown coarse. He spent the night in his form — a shallow nest among the long grass beside the ditch. He moves stiffly up the slope, pausing every now and then to stop and listen. Wild hares live to around four years. This one still manages to find food, but is no longer as swift as in his former days, so is more at risk from predators. This winter will likely be his last. When the sun rises shortly after eight o’ clock the first amber rays illuminate the tops of the trees along the banks. When the boy from the farm cycles up the lane to get to the village school he finds it quiet and deserted. At the road’s edge, largely concealed by grasses, a black mole is trying to burrow its way into the bank. The post van is the next vehicle to come along, leaving two black tyre tracks as it passes. It is regarded with caution by a rabbit in the mouth of her burrow. Her nose and whiskers twitch to test whether it is safe to venture outside. When the morning sun spills over the valley sides it fills the silver tunnel with light. It glints upon the eye of a song thrush that sits in the branches of an ivy-clad oak and finds diamonds in drops of melting crystal that cling to the ivy leaves. The thrush has perched with ruffled feathers all morning, but in the warmth of the sun she shakes out her wings and begins to preen. Of all garden birds thrushes can suffer the most during long spells of cold weather. The tell-tale sign of a hungry thrush is a sudden ability to overcome its timidity and venture closer to garden bird feeding stations. In the wild, little collections of empty snail shells dotted around a large stone that the thrush uses as an anvil denotes the place where it feeds. But in cold weather snails and worms become difficult to find. This thrush is fortunate to have found a friend in the old lady who lives at the lodge at the end of the driveway to the manor. Each morning and evening he will fly to her cottage garden and avail himself of the large scattering of lard-covered breadcrumbs that she takes care to leave for the birds. For the rest of the day there is little wildlife activity in the lane. Just before dusk a blackbird takes to the stage in an oak tree and releases a delicious sequence of liquid sounds across the valley. A few of his perfectly sung notes reach the ears of the farm boy who rushes down the lane on his bike returning from school. The sun sets quickly and is gone from the lane well before four o’ clock. As dusk falls the rabbits leave their burrows and scramble up the banks to reach the crop fields beyond where, amongst the small green shoots, last night’s ice still remains. Here they will graze the grass at the field edges and play until night falls. Within the banks of the lane the temperature drops, the watery mud at the edges begins to glaze over, and the cold grip of the frost takes hold once more. REBECCA WELSHMAN Photograph: JIM HELLIER THIS ENGLAND, Winter, 2017 31