Saturday, 31 December 2011

Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown...

New Year's Eve usually finds me in a reflective mood.  I am not fond of the celebrations usually associated with New Year - the parties with virtual strangers and false bonhomie and all that build up of expectation and making of unrealistic resolutions. 

You are more likely to find me sitting in our cosy living room, looking at the candles in the fireplace and thinking about the year past.  We've also started to think about our plans for the year ahead - what we shall plant and make, places we want to visit, plus what we shall do next to Hazel Cottage.

King George VI used a poem often called 'The Gate of the Year' by Minnie Louise Haskins in his 1939 Christmas radio broadcast.  The first few lines are:

'And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”  And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

 I've always loved the poem as it acknowledges that the year ahead is unknown and that we may need guidance in what is to come.  I know that the religious theme is not everyone's taste, but the imagery of the light is rather comforting and it also insists that we must be fearless in going out into the darkness and uncertainty of the new year. 

In all my reflections I have to say that 2011 has been a very happy and creative year here at Hazel Cottage, so I will end with a poem about the joyous bells that ring in the new year.  Happy New Year!

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true
~Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The quiet days of Christmas

I have always loved those days between Christmas Day and New Year.  These quiet days of eating leftovers, tidying up and reflecting are as much Christmas to me as feasting and singing carols.  The tree and decorations are still up and the candles still burn softly.  This Christmas has been a real homemade one here at Hazel Cottage, we have made our own Christmas pudding, mincemeat and mince pies, and Christmas Cake, with homemade marzipan and royal icing.  Our pickles and preserves made with the glut of Summer and Autumn are now coming into their own; the pickled onions, quince jelly, chutney, pickled beetroot and damson jam all graced the Christmas table.

Our Christmas table

Although we are still in the dark days of winter, it is now that we start planning for the year ahead, what vegetables, herbs and flowers to plant, what things we want to buy for our home when the car boot sales and the markets begin again. 

Monday, 12 December 2011

Christmas at Hinton Ampner

A bright and frosty morning at Hazel Cottage this Saturday. Certainly a lot nicer than this evening where rain and wind is battering us.We've not had weather this bad for quite a while.

It was the perfect weather for a trip to another of our favourite National Trust houses, Hinton Ampner near Cheriton in Hampshire.

The cold weather had brought out hundreds of these mushrooms in the gardens.

The old door inside All Saints Church in the grounds of Hinton Ampner. A church has stood on the site since Saxon times.

The house decorated for Christmas. To be honest we didn't like what they'd done. A theme of white. White tree, presents, food, lights! Fine for Narnia but not for an old English house.

Library did look lovely though. All in all a lovely day away from the shopping crowds and then home for our local Church christmas meal.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A Christmas Read

It's remarkable how much my reading is affected by my mood, the weather, or even where I am at the time. Now that the nights have well and truly drawn in and Christmas is just around the corner I'm tempted to temporarily cast aside my current reading and reach again for John Masefield's marvellous Box of Delights, a book that never fails to enchant and evoke a childhood Christmas that I never actually experienced (it was published in 1935, which is about the year I live in in my head).

I first read The Box of Delights after watching the BBC's excellent adaptation in the mid-80s when I was still at school.  The haunting opening music (taken from Victor Hely-Hutchinson's marvellous Carol Symphony), snowy Chester hills and a tale of magic and adventure caught my imagination straight away. I wanted to be Kay Harker and help old Cole Hawlings to thwart the machinations of the devious Abner Brown and Dame Sylvia Pouncer. I got the paperback for Christmas that year and I read it many times over the following years.

When I was in my early 20s and knew no better I decided to get rid of 'childish' things and gave away the book along with all the old Enid Blyton hardbacks I had! Now that I've properly grown up I'm pleased to say I have a lovely old hardback copy of the book (and its prequel 'The Midnight Folk') as well as the DVD and would recommend it to anyone, no matter what age. Settle down in a comfy chair with just a lamp to read by and prepare to be drawn in to its magical delights.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Westward Ho!

We were away from Hazel Cottage last weekend for a long weekend in Devon, visiting family.

First stop, Honiton and its antique shops. Most of them are far beyond our simple means but there is one in particular that is crammed with vintage things from vintage fabrics through to old sledge hammers and garden tools. We came away with a lovely pewter candlestick, a cream and green enamel bain-marie, and a lovely little wooden box which we've no idea what we'll do with but we had to give it a home.

Champers Delicatessen in Honiton. 

As luck would have it the cafe we tried for lunch had run out of baked potatoes so we wandered on up the side street and stumbled upon the delightful Champers delicatessen.Nat King Cole was playing, shelves were laden with local produce and a rare thing indeed - gluten free pies and pasties!

Saturday to the market town of Tavistock and it really began to feel like Christmas with the local brass band playing Christmas Carols.

Crebers in Tavistock

Tavistock is also the home of Crebers, a marvellous delicatessen which is always busy but at Christmas was heaving with people.

Sunday to Buckland Abbey near Yelverton. A National Trust property I know very well and never tire of visting. Partly because my mother lived at a farmhouse that overlooked the Abbey and I loved to wander the grounds out of season, listening to the jackdaws and sometimes spotting a fox on the hills.

The house had been decorated for Christmas and there were games and crafts to try. 

Victorian Christmas Kitchen

Our favourite part of the Abbey, the lovely kitchens.

Gingerbread House

Not the best picture of the gingerbread house but we wanted to get the cake in front in as well. Dangerously, they also provided instructions for making a house. Now we just have to work out when between now and Christmas we can make it. One of us may have to start a night shift in the kitchens!

Father Christmas's Parlour

Father Christmas had apparently gone to feed the reindeer so we just had to make do with a quick peep in his cosy parlour.

It was a lovely weekend and was so nice to see the family but we're glad to be back at Hazel Cottage and are looking forward to those things that make Christmas so special - the candle lit carol service at our local church, the joy of giving some simple presents, and enjoying the company of our friends and family.