Sunday 25 September 2016

Hatching an underarm egg for Easter time

Country Matters

Joe Kennedy

Published 27/03/2016 | 02:30

GIFTED: Travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor as a Major in the parachute regiment. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)
GIFTED: Travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor as a Major in the parachute regiment. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)

The late Patrick Leigh Fermor was an elegant prose stylist and a gifted writer about exotic places he had visited on his travels.

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This was during a long lifetime of wandering which began with an eventful journey as a youth on foot across Europe, from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, taking in sojourns in the Balkans and the Greek Archipelago.

During the Second World War, as an Irish Guards officer seconded to the SOE (forerunner of the SAS) in Greece and Crete, he led a team that captured the German commander on Crete and spirited him off the island.

At war's end, Sir Paddy, as he eventually became, travelled through the Caribbean with two companions and produced his first published book, The Travellers Trees.The tree in question, in the Antillies, was originally a stranger, coming from Madagascar and Reunion. It has a straight trunk, reaching 30 feet high with, at the top, large, long-stalked leaves which spread vertically like a fan. The leaves have sheaths at the base in which sufficient water collects to supply a refreshing drink - hence the name.

Sir Paddy's colourful and episodic book is about a journey undertaken in 1946-47 and was first published in 1950. After such a long time - and having read all his other work - I have recently found a re-published copy. Better late than never!

Appropriately, for Easter, and just past our general election, there is an amusing anecdote related about a resourceful West Indian (Martinique) politician who was not averse to using magical sleight of hand to enhance his chances at the ballot box.

Paddy tells of an Eastertide belief in the islands that an ordinary hen's egg, if kept warm in the human armpit during all of Lent, hatches out on Easter Sunday a tiny creature, three-inches high, that prostrates itself before the foster-father in slave-like devotion! The Little Man is invisible to all but its master.

The political deputy in question, according to the story, had a reputation for wizardry and conjuring tricks and "did not bother to make glowing promises or attack the Opposition in pre- election speeches." He didn't have to with his little man up his sleeve!

The politician simply informed the electorate that he had posted one of these fellows inside the electoral drum with instructions to destroy any voting slips in favour of rivals. And apparently, his opponents, driven by superstition or fear of magic spells from the manikin, promptly gave up so that our friend was elected unanimously!

Is there an Irish angle here? I feel that if Seamus Ennis were still travelling about he might conjure up a similar story. An egg hatching in an armpit has a faint ring of familiarity about it.

Today I trust that eggs will be plentiful - probably of chocolate and full of surprises - with perhaps others hard-boiled, painted and secreted in children's games. Remember also the hare's nest, 'form' or grass lair. The animal is the real Easter Bunny and its cover is similar to that of some ground-nesting birds such as plovers and lapwings (now scarce). They used lay their eggs nearby. The tradition of hares and eggs in a nest is more widespread in northern Europe, where the twain meet at 'Osterhaus', rather than in this country.

Sunday Independent

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