Barge Poles (31-07-20)
Bible Reading: Galatians 6. 5, 9 - 10
For we are each responsible for our own conduct… So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. (New Living Translation)
I had my first actual meeting of four months last week in Cambridge. It felt good to get out and about, but it was also a strange experience with the pavements marked out with a one-way system of arrows for Covid awareness and safety. Never have I seen Cambridge in July so bereft of people or the River Cam with no punts. Normally at this time of the year, the river would be heaving with punts poled by the experienced and inexperienced alike, struggling not to bump into one another, accompanied by much laughter and enjoyment. But the river was strangely silent.
This reminded me of a comment in a recent blog: ‘I never thought the phrase, "I wouldn't touch you with barge pole" would become a national policy, but here we are!’
I am always interested in words and idioms and their derivations, so I did a bit of digging. This saying dates back to the nineteenth century, when canals were in their heyday. Bargemen used their bargepoles to propel the barge along and also to prevent them bumping into other boats or wharfs. They wouldn’t put their pole into soft mud or an unstable bank.
If you say that you wouldn't touch something with a barge pole (or punt pole, or in America, a ten-foot pole), you mean that you would not want to have anything to do with something that might be unsafe or dangerous.
Meanings change over time, and now to keep safe we are being instructed to keep at least 2 metres apart inside and out, and 3 metres apart outside if we want to sing or blow a wind instrument. National lockdown, and now targeted lockdowns, are doing their job and curbing the spread of Coronavirus, and we are beginning to enjoy a little more freedom.
But after four months of keeping a safe distance, let’s not get tired of doing what is right and good. Whenever we have the opportunity, let us continue to send texts and WhatsApp messages to encourage one another, let us continue to support the shielding and vulnerable, and let us continue to pray for the health and safety of others out of kindness and love
A Prayer (by St Ignatius of Loyola)
Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do your will. Amen.