I'm speaking very softly because it's so early — only half past five. I can hear my husband gently snoring in bed just the other side of the wall. I mean, he's not making a great thundering racket, just a peaceful little rumble; it's not why I got up.
I usually wake up around five, and I got out of bed to put my coffee on. I have it down to a fine art. I put ready in the kitchen the night before anything that might clank or require me to open a noisy door. We live in a town so it's never really dark, there's always enough ambient glow to get around — plus in the hall there are the lights of the internet hub and upstairs on the landing the light for the central heating furnace, though the furnace itself is in the attic.
So I put a pan of coffee on the hob without turning any lights on that might wake up any of our slumbering household in the downstairs rooms, then measure a mugful of water from the iron spring in the valley from our Berkey water filter. I can't see when the mug is full so I crook my finger over the top edge of the mug so I can feel it. I put the water in a little pan to heat on the stove-top too — an electric kettle is noisy, but heating on the hob is silent. Relatively. When the coffee boils, I turn it down and draw it to the edge of the hotplate to simmer for half an hour, then when the spring water boils I pour it back into my mug onto a nettle tea bag, and take it upstairs. After that I came in here to chat to you, because it's way too early to be in and out of bed — I can slip out once, but I'll have to be back down to tend the coffee in twenty five minutes, and the more I'm in and out the more likely I am to wake up my hubby.
So, while the coffee simmers, I'm all yours. The cats are up, and have occasional little merbling remarks to make, but apart from that it's just you and me.
It's very dark!
Can you see me? Just?
Let's put our glasses on . . .
Is that better?
D'you know what day it is? What feast?
I think if he's looking down from heaven on us right now, St Martin would have a great big grin on his face, because he really didn't want to be so important, and because he was a soldier, and guess what — his feast has been completely overshadowed by Remembrance Day.
Here in England it's poppy mania and men on the telly marching about slowly and reading out poems by Wilfred Owen and talking about the tragedy of war as if the refugees in the woods north of Calais, driven out of their homes by our bombs, didn't exist, as if our weapons factories and big prestigious arms fairs were all in the great cause of peace. Ours is a violent nation, and we train attention onto the first and second world wars not least because it fosters a narrative of ourselves as brave and honourable instead of predatory and opportunistic. I respect the honouring of those who died in the horrors and terrifying violence of war, but it causes me disquiet when it is coupled with ignoring or promoting the continuing horror in the present day, and turning aside from the thousands whose lives have been ruined by war right now.
In addition to those fleeing war overseas, our own homeless charities here in the UK estimate we have about 7,000 rough-sleeping military veterans with post-traumatic-stress disorders. Laying a wreath to honour those who died in the first and second world wars is an honourable tradition, but its meaning is diminished when we are so careless of those who suffer from war in the present day.
Remembrance Day is huge here, and it's on the 11th November — the feast of St Martin of Tours. He was a Roman soldier (born in 316 CE in Hungary) who, on a cold winter's day, saw a beggar shivering in the cold. He'd joined the military when he was fifteen, and this was three years after that, so he was still only a lad really. Anyway, he got off his horse, drew his sword (I bet the beggar was terrified), pulled off his cloak and cut it in half. It must have been a nice big wooly one that wrapped round him almost twice, because he gave half to the beggar to wear and kept the other half for himself without that looking pointless and silly.
So he was by nature a generous man who noticed when someone else was in need and responded with humanity and compassion. If Martin was alive now, you'd find him with the volunteers of Care 4 Calais, taking winter coats to the rough sleeping refugees, after he'd been to the Cenotaph with the government ministers whose principle contribution to the plight of the Syrian refugees we created was reneging on the promise to take in the children, refusing even the disabled, and building a £3,000,000 fence to keep them all out.
When Martin was fast asleep in bed the night after the beggar incident, Christ came into his dreams. Has anything like that ever happened to you? An astral visitation? I've not had loads and loads of them, but enough now that I've come to recognise the difference between a dream and the interception of an astral encounter. We do go wandering while our bodies lie asleep. I've found some of my encounters fascinating.
And it was Christ himself who interrupted Martin's dream, wearing the very half-cloak that Martin had bestowed on the beggar to keep him warm.
Meeting Jesus changes people, and Martin became a Christian, then a priest, and he was loved in the community of faith. He was a monk and a hermit, and it's said he helped establish the first monastery of Gaul — isn't that the one with the famous plans of a really good layout of the buildings and garden? So much was Martin esteemed that they decided to make him a bishop. But Martin was horrified by the idea of being made special and important, so when they came for him he went and hid in the goose run. They found him anyway, and he was duly made the bishop of Tours.
Martin was the first non-martyr to be made a saint. His feast became a really special moment in the church year, because it was the time when the beasts were slaughtered. In Old England, root vegetables weren't yet a thing. There was fruit and grain and salad greens, and there were onions, garlic and leeks. But, especially if the grain harvests had been poor in rainy weather, there wasn't really enough grain to feed both people and livestock through the winter. So the brood and stud animals were kept, but the rest were slaughtered at this point. They must have dried and smoked some, but they would also have massive great barbeque parties for everyone to join in. And there'd be enough meat for a really big party, to have some yourself and some to give away. And since sharing half of the good things in life was what Martin was remembered for, they made it his feast.
But in every church the length and breadth of the land, the young soldier who gave away half his cloak to a beggar will not be remembered. The example he set of sharing what you have with the homeless refugee will be forgotten. Martinmas is no longer kept in the church, because it's been edged out entirely by Remembrance Day. But I don't think he would have minded. He was a soldier himself after all, and he never did want to be important.
Right. Time to get that coffee off the hob.
Oh — but wait — I'm so sorry — did you have something you wanted to say? I'm sorry, have I just made this a monologue? Oops!