One of the wonderful things about living in a multicultural society is the way it offers you so many opportunities to celebrate so many things. Or, perhaps, so many opportunities to celebrate the same thing several times and in different ways
I don’t like the commercialisation of festivities, so I’m not a great one for Christmas and the like, and I don’t usually celebrate New Year, either. But there are years when I’m beginning to feel a little more positive a bit later on in January, and if that’s the case, I can celebrate Reyes (aka Epiphany) on January 6th. Or I can wait and celebrate Old New Year on January 14th.
If it takes longer than that before I want to come out of hibernation, there’s Imbolc on February 1st, which is another opportunity to recognise the year beginning, or at least the imminent arrival of spring. And I’ve just discovered there’s a Japanese celebration – Setsubun – just a day or so later, which I should probably investigate for future years.
But I’ve long known about the Chinese New Year and frequently felt it’s a more appropriate time to start looking to the year ahead. This year, it’s the year of the ox; more precisely the metal ox. And it began yesterday.
The language of cattle is complicated. Are they cattle or kine? Is it a terrible faux pas to refer to animals such as the evil-eyed creature in the top image as cows? If they aren’t cows, are they heifers, steers or bullocks? At least I’m fairly certain that the ones painted below are cows.
I’m really not sure I know what an ox is, even after doing a quick bit of research on Google. But I remember that the Nativity scenes of my childhood had an ox and an ass in the stable, so I think the next photo must be an ox. (As it was made of clay, perhaps it would count as an earth ox, but I probably won’t still be here posting on this blog in 48 years’ time.)
The next photo was also an ox from a nativity scene, even if I did get a bit carried away with providing it with a different setting. The Chinese elements are wood, fire, earth, metal and water, so I don’t know where to put plastic. Other than the recycling bin, I suppose.
Both the Nativity scene oxen above were Spanish, as were the cows painted on tiles. Indeed, there are plenty of cattle in Spain, although, of course, it’s better known for bulls than cows. I don’t know if she’s still there, but a few years ago when you flew into Madrid, you were likely to be greeted by a view of the glamorous Europa sitting atop a jovial bull.
But England has bulls and bullrings, too. And even if I have no metal ox to end this series of photos, I can find a rather splendid metal bull.
There’s little in the way of cattle in my poems, although I did post “what a cow – notes for a poem” ten years ago, which is when I added the background to the plastic nativity figurine photo above.
I never did write that poem. But there is a family cow story, which I included in a memoir piece about asparagus, which my mother and her siblings used to pick on a Friday night after school. It’s a long piece, and quite personal, so I’ll just post an extract of the part where Mum is telling me about my uncle taking the asparagus into town to the greengrocer’s to sell.
He’d get the bus at 7 o’clock – a thruppenny return all along the Bradford Leigh Road. That’s the road where our Dot got her bike stuck under a cow, but that was much later.
I’ve heard the story many times, but it always makes me smile.
That was during the war, in the blackout, when you weren’t allowed to have any lights on vehicles, not even on bikes, and Dot was cycling home in the dark. She knew the road, but suddenly this enormous black shape loomed up in front of her and she ran slap into the side of a cow. It was standing sideways in the road and her front wheel jammed right under its belly.
Each time Mum tells that story, I picture Dot – the poshest of my country aunts – in a summer frock and kitten heels, with a smart little hat perched at a rakish slant, suddenly confronted by a warm and very solid wall of hide.
If, like the rest of my chapel forebears, she was working in the glove factory – rather than the mattress factory where the Church folks went – perhaps she was used to the close-up smell of leather, but I still worry about those kitten heels and cowpats in the dark.