Keep Her Lit

My friend’s parents live in rural North Yorkshire with a garden the size of a small holding. They are an older version of ‘The Good Life’ – do you remember it? The sitcom from the Seventies with an idealistic couple – Felicity Kendall (Barbara) and Richard Briers (Tom) – who dropped out of modern, commercial living in order to become self-sufficient in their suburban south London home. It was a lovely series, gently poking fun at that gap between what we aspire to and what me manage to achieve. Tom and Barbara often had glorious failures in, for example, converting the greenhouse into a chicken shed, introducing two pigs to their modestly sized back garden or bartering for a dilapidated cooking range from the rag-and-bone man. The people I know who live this way (a lot more successfully), did not at all set about to do it as an antidote to modernity. They are quite up to date with all they want to be, but they are also authentic country people with a huge rambling garden that they tame as best they can, leaving large swathes of it in benign neglect, allowing nature to present what it will. They have coops of rare breed chickens, and cats that lie in the sun on low walls, and, away at the bottom of the garden, under the apple trees is an old wilting hogpen, from the time they had pigs. “I’m not as able now, had to let the pigs go,” he hold me when I was there last autumn, handing me bags of produce – marrows, apples, cultivated blackberries, red chillies, seeds and plants. “Did you get away on a holiday this year?” I asked him. “We’ll go in October, somewhere not too far, and not for too long or the Aga will go out.”

It remained with me, that idea of staying and sticking to something; a commitment, an undertaking, what some might call, ‘a bind’. ‘Keep the home fires burning,’ wasn’t that the old refrain of the wartime song? That concept of keeping things running smoothly, of being dedicated to an ongoing task, one that is never complete; quiet dedication is perhaps lesser known to us these days. Gone are the days of the unreliable car; the one that belched smoke from its exhaust and when you got it running you didn’t dare switch off the engine for fear of it never starting again. I don’t know if this expression extends beyond Northern Ireland, but there is a great term of encouragement commonly used there – the reassuring refrain: ‘keep her lit!’ Useful in all sorts of moments, from bidding farewell and wishing continued good cheer and prosperity on the other, to an exhortation to push on through at a physical task; basically it’s an all encompassing plea to keep going, not to give up, to maintain your enthusiasm. And so, as we reach another milestone in the calendar of the year and take a break for a few days, may you win the battle to keep your pilot light going, especially when it splutters and makes to die and you are so very inclined to just let it. I’m going to take a few days off for Easter, not writing, but, if I can get the boiler fired up again, I should be back. Happy Easter, keep her lit.

Not Writing, by Jane Kenyon

A wasp rises to its papery

nest under the eaves

where it daubs

 at the gray shape,

but seems unable

to enter its own house.

One thought on “Keep Her Lit

  1. I remember that show! Yes..the rhythm of sticking to something, daily tasks…lovely. Enjoying your blog, the first thing I read with my coffee each morning. Happy Easter


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