Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Other days of Christmas...

Today is the day that everyone asks that annoying question.  'Did you have a good Christmas?' they enquire and my answer is always to state that it is still Christmas!  To a large number of people in this country, Christmas starts when the shops start advertising their wares (if you are lucky in November), and ends with Boxing Day.  Many people are busy taking down Christmas trees, stripping their house of all decoration, moaning about having too much food leftover.

Whilst I understand the need for businesses to start Christmas early, I don't understand the need to start Christmas celebrations a month in advance.  Before you think I am being rather humbug, it isn't that I don't love Christmas, I really do.  I love all the preparation, the making of the mincemeat, the hanging of the holly and ivy, the choosing and wrapping presents and writing cards.  What I don't like is this long pre Christmas hysteria followed by a cutting short of the Christmas season.  For it IS a season.  Christmas starts on Christmas Eve and runs until Twelfth Night.  In some traditions it even lasts as long as Candlemas on the 2nd of February.

I'm a great believer in Thoreau's saying that we should 'Live in each season as it passes'.  Enjoy the beginnings of Autumn and the leaves changing colour, then celebrate Halloween, Bonfire Night, Stir Up Sunday and so on.  If we rush onto the next thing too quickly, we do not savour what is happening at that moment.  Rather than spending the whole of the Autumn celebrating Christmas, leave Christmas to its proper time at the end of the year, at the darkest time of the year.

I do understand that a lot of people don't work in the same industry that means they can take time off between Christmas and New Year, but even those who have to return to work can have those days brightened by coming home to a lovely tree with its sparkling lights or a candle burning.

Thank you for your messages on my Christmas Day message, I do hope that you are able to enjoy the other days of Christmas too.  We are only on the third day of Christmas now, many days left to celebrate the light in the darkness.
“A good time occurs precisely when we lose track of what time it is.”  
Robert Farrar Capon

Friday, 25 December 2015

Christmas Wishes

We would like to wish all those reading our blog
a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Saturday, 19 December 2015

Marchpane Cake and Crochet Snowflakes

Since my last post we've been busy with Christmassy plans and trips.  We went to Devon to see the family and spent a lovely day at Buckland Abbey.  It is one of our very favourite places, the great barn was filled with a wonderful flower display based on the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Nine Ladies Dancing

Ten lords a'leaping

 We also spent a lot of time wandering around their beautiful kitchen.  This year the theme was a Tudor Christmas and I was enchanted with the spices and herbs and food displayed.

The open fire made it rather special and made us hope and yearn for cooler days so we can light our fire at home more often!  The next weekend we spent a day in Brighton, having a wonderful lunch in the Blackbird Tea Rooms which was beautifully decorated in 1930s and 40s d├ęcor.
We hadn't come to drink tea however, but to see Kate Rusby.  For those of you who aren't aware, she is a folk singer from Yorkshire and every December she does special Christmas concerts, singing Yorkshire Christmas carols - to the tunes that are sung in the pubs in South Yorkshire.  We just love her voice and I'm sure my description doesn't do her justice.  I also loved her huge crocheted stage decorations!
And to continue our busy weekends before Christmas, we also popped to Hinton Ampner in the north of Hampshire.  They had a lovely Victorian Christmas wedding theme to their decorations. 
Wedding breakfast
Now we are back home again and looking forward to the festivities.  We've even found time to put up our own tree.

As usual we've covered it in our motley collection of hand made, Germanic, Victorian and folksy decorations.
Tomorrow is the Candlelight Carol service at the church and then the last couple of days at work before Christmas begins.  We do really hope the weather will cool down soon, it's been rather warm for the time of year.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Living in the past

I live in a modern world filled with computers and fast cars and constant change. I appreciate modern medicine and technology and the huge choice that is available, I wouldn't be without any of that which makes life better for all of us. Without technology you wouldn't be reading this blog now!

However my heart and home belongs somewhere in the mid 1930s, where tea is made in a Beryl ware teapot served with homemade scones and jam.  Where every wooden tray has a cotton or lace doily on it, and there are always flowers on the table. A room where Al Bowlly is singing softly on the wireless, and mantel clock is ticking steadily.  Where the dresser has coronation cups with the King and Queen on them and and sofa has home made patchwork cushions and an antimacassar on the back. 

Where there is a larder stuffed with home made chutney and jam and marmalade and where the christmas pudding sits waiting on a shelf.  Where old jars are filled with rice, currants and sago, with pulses and lentils and flour.

A place where books are in every room, books old and new nestle side by side and the telephone rings with a bright 'bring-bring!'.  A place where candles are lit, the seasons are marked and the house is filled with things that bring back memories of trips taken or of people we love.

“Home, the spot of earth supremely blest. A dearer, sweeter spot than all the rest”
Robert Montgomery

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Advent Candles

Today is Advent Sunday, the beginning of the season leading up to Christmas.  As you may know we love marking the seasons properly, so we always have an advent candle of some kind.  This year we have two!  One is the usual slim one with numbers that we've put by the fireplace to light each evening.

The other candle we have in the middle of our table.  I had made the wreath last week at WI, and started wondering whether it would last until Christmas

Then we had the idea that it could be our advent wreath.  So today we lit our candle at our Sunday lunch.  We shall light it at each meal until Christmas, then it shall become our Christmas centre piece.

I think I've probably posted the following poem before, but I do love Betjeman and it is rather apt with all the black Friday nonsense that is swirling around.

Advent 1955
by John Betjeman

The Advent wind begins to stir
 With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir,
 It's dark at breakfast, dark at tea,
 And in between we only see
 Clouds hurrying across the sky
 And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry
 And branches bending to the gale
 Against great skies all silver pale
 The world seems travelling into space,
 And travelling at a faster pace
 Than in the leisured summer weather
 When we and it sit out together,
 For now we feel the world spin round
 On some momentous journey bound -
 Journey to what? to whom? to where?
 The Advent bells call out 'Prepare,
 Your world is journeying to the birth
 Of God made Man for us on earth.'
 And how, in fact, do we prepare
 The great day that waits us there -
 For the twenty-fifth day of December,
 The birth of Christ? For some it means
 An interchange of hunting scenes
 On coloured cards, And I remember
 Last year I sent out twenty yards,
 Laid end to end, of Christmas cards
 To people that I scarcely know -
 They'd sent a card to me, and so
 I had to send one back. Oh dear!
 Is this a form of Christmas cheer?
 Or is it, which is less surprising,
 My pride gone in for advertising?
 The only cards that really count
 Are that extremely small amount
 From real friends who keep in touch
 And are not rich but love us much
 Some ways indeed are very odd
 By which we hail the birth of God.
 We raise the price of things in shops,
 We give plain boxes fancy tops
 And lines which traders cannot sell
 Thus parcell'd go extremely well
 We dole out bribes we call a present
 To those to whom we must be pleasant
 For business reasons. Our defence is
 These bribes are charged against expenses
 And bring relief in Income Tax
 Enough of these unworthy cracks!
 'The time draws near the birth of Christ'.
 A present that cannot be priced
 Given two thousand years ago
 Yet if God had not given so
 He still would be a distant stranger
 And not the Baby in the manger.


Friday, 23 October 2015

Nostalgia and mince pies

When I was talking to a work colleague recently I mentioned that I was planning to make my mince meat the following weekend.  The reaction I got was almost the attitude of why bother when you can buy it easily enough.  

I'm used to people thinking that cooking from scratch or making anything is too much effort.  Each year I make my own mincemeat, Christmas pudding and Christmas cake and I love doing it. 

It is part of the seasonal way we like to live our lives.  In January we often make marmalade out of traditional Seville oranges, in summer I often make jam out of raspberries we grow in the garden, and in autumn we forage for berries and nuts and make things out of them.  Part of it is loving growing things, cooking things and being creative, part of it is a form of nostalgia - a love of the past and the way things were done in the past. 


Part of the reason I got into blogging was that there is a lovely online community (or lots of communities actually) where others are making things from scratch, loving reading and living in the past.  Blogs are generally gentle, entertaining and wonderful places where likeminded people can congregate.  I started reading Fading Grace's blog some years ago, and whilst Sophie has moved on to different projects I guess, she was very influential on me at the time and I miss her blogs.   I've found a wonderful world of people who love many of the same things as me.  Some of the current blogs and pages I'm loving are:    Sarah Miller Walters fab blog on old films    A great project by Nicole who has published magazines, books and runs a society called the Nostalgianeers

Luckily I'm of an age where I don't really care whether everyone shares my interests - but I do think a lot of people do miss out by just living a very limited modern life where they miss out on very creative and interesting things because they are afraid to admit they enjoy it.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Autumnal equinox

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

Sunday, 30 August 2015

A good day's foraging

We had a great day foraging today in the New Forest.  We went specifically to find sloes for our annual sloe gin making.  Sloes are one of those fruits that no one ever wants to eat but they produce a wonderful flavour when steeped in gin for a few months, not to mention a lovely red colour.

When we got to our secret foraging site we found a huge number of very ripe cherry plums.

We kept on picking for quite a while and eventually picked 17lb of the plums!
We did find a good load of sloes as well, luckily, eventually picking 8lb of sloes, enough for several bottles of sloe gin.
Of course we also found the wonderful blackberry although we got a smaller amount of them as many were still red.
We were also told of some apples we could legally scrump and got some apples to add to our haul.

Luckily tomorrow is a bank holiday so we can attempt to process some of this bounty.  Other than sloe gin we are hoping to make plum jam and maybe even some plum wine. 

Friday, 17 July 2015

Flying ant day

We termed Wednesday, 'Flying ant day' as hundreds of ants, flying and otherwise were everywhere.  I expect  it was the same in many other places this far south.  The weather has been warm and close for a while, but with not very much rain.   Mr C took some pictures of the flying ants.  This one is of them mating.  Sadly it seems after mating, the drone then dies...
This made me think of the hundreds of different insects in our garden.  I can't even name a lot of them, but I find them fascinating.  If the garden belongs to anyone, it belongs to them!
We found this one above, inside the house on some roses, but put it back outside.

Ladybird and ant combination!

Cinnabar moth sat in the grass. 
Hover flies mating.  A wonderful photo from Mr C.
The  garden is looking slightly messy and overblown now.  I'm entirely behind with deadheading roses, and the lack of rain is making the grass look yellow.     Excitingly, we seem to have at least two hedgehogs in the garden, so hopefully they are eating lots of snails and slugs.  Getting a photo of them is a far more complex issue without night vision goggles....

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Summer Solstice musings

Today is the longest day of the year, the height of summer light and sunshine.  I've already heard the jokes about how we are now heading towards winter, but it isn't quite like that yet.  The roses are at their most luscious and fecund.  I've brought several into the house today, the red roses are just stunning at the moment.

I'm not even sure the pictures show how deep and velvety the red is.  Sadly you will have to take my word for it!

The raspberries are starting to ripen and we have redcurrants and gooseberries starting to ripen too.  The last of the frankly disappointing rhubarb is just coming up.   All of this is made possible by the bees that buzz around our garden.  We usually see a large range of bumble bees and the odd honey bee.   However last Sunday we saw this outside the back door

A swarm of bees!  I'm reliably informed that bees swarm when they are looking for a new home.  I don't know where these came from although they are centred in next doors garden.  The garden next door is not cultivated at all and the people who live there rarely go outside so the bees have been using it for a home or whilst resting.  I'm not entirely sure they've gone as even though they seemed to buzz off, we've seen them again since.

After many weeks of barely being in the garden and feeling somewhat distanced from all that is happening, it was lovely to briefly gather some flowers today.  Everything is lush and twice the size it was the last time I looked...  The insects and the birds carry on regardless.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Dales diary...

I'm afraid this blog has been somewhat quiet again of late.   For several weeks life has simply got in the way.  Last week we went away to the Yorkshire Dales, an utterly beautiful area that I had never seen before. 

Having a week in such a lovely place has done us the world of good.  Even in the pouring rain this is a special place.  The wide open spaces, the mile upon mile of dry stone walls, the thousands of sheep, the rivers and becks and waterfalls are everywhere.

And then, finally when the sun comes out, the effect is quite magical. 

The tops of the hills are windy and slightly bleak.  You can see for miles and you can hear the lapwings and skylarks all round.  Down in the dales and in the meadows, the flowers and the woodland birds take over.

Buttercups, clover, germander speedwell and daisies are everywhere and the swallows dip and swoop over the fields.  In the evenings the swifts are up above the houses in their screaming parties, but the swallows dip low almost to our head height.  Occasionally they even rest...

The artist Turner came to the Dales and painted this lovely place, I like to think he appreciated the wonderful light and gentle wilderness .  He stayed at the King's Arms Hotel in Askrigg and the Green Dragon at Hardraw and drew many of the places nearby, including Mill Gill Fall and Hardraw Force.   It is a special place and one I shall remember for a long time.

"There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” 
Alfred Wainwright