“Bring me flesh and bring me wine”

Will Bond, Alaska Environmental Contracting Ltd.

I enjoy sharing food with others – whether salad or steak. But I absolutely hate being the only one eating while others watch me. Self-conscious, I know I lack finesse, so when we sing the Christmas carols, I cringe with sympathy and embarrassment when Good King Wenceslas does his rounds:

Bring me flesh, and bring me wine.

Bring me pine logs hither.

Thou and I will see him dine,

When we bear them thither.

© Wickisource

I imagine myself the peasant woodsman who has enjoyed nothing more exotic for Christmas than the occasional squirrel or rabbit for as many decades as I have lived. Suddenly a Brian Blessed character and a fancy page boy are sitting opposite me at the table I haven’t wiped properly since – well years ago; them wanting to watch me eat. “Well,” booms Brian “Enjoy”. Enjoy? I’ve never seen an oyster before – what do I do with it? The ‘flesh’ is pheasant – at least it’s close enough to a pigeon that I can figure that one out – but he is watching me intently, and the page boy too. I feel obliged to pretend that I am enjoying fine dining, and drinking wine. (I shared a glass once years ago – now they expect me to quaff it in front of them – this is not going to end well). 

Nowadays when the media and politicians discuss the climate and ecological emergencies, and our role in reducing our consumption, the start point is always that it is going to require sacrifice on our parts. Actually ‘yonder peasant’ had an excellent carbon footprint until the well-meaning king stole the scene. 

In our enthusiasm to make one issue good, we often make another worse. We turn up the heating for our visitors, who are too polite to say they are hot. We send cards to people we know, only because they send us cards (for the same reason). We buy relatives useless presents because they always buy us useless presents. We take on the role of the ‘Good King’ by default. 

© iStock Getty Images

I accept that the 1853 carol lyrics are Victorian slush, and the plot is really about the king’s humanity, and the page’s footsteps, but isn’t there a lesson here for us all today in our present situation? Old standards and assumptions, just like many ‘Regulations’, may no longer be the best thing we can do. In a fast changing world, we should try to consider all perspectives. And, best of all, we may find that doing the best for the world does not inevitably involve self-sacrifice, but sometimes just reconsidering where our actions fit within the model. That’s a win/win. Saving our natural world will be painful at times, but not inevitably.