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It seems to be a pattern this year, just as I am embarking on blogging about a trip away, life intervenes and the posts stop before they really get started.

Oh well, I hope that my Scotland trip will still appear here, but for now my seasonal offering this year is a tradition from Iceland I have just heard about from litlovers facebook page:

The “Jólabókaflóð” – literally, the Christmas Book Flood.  Apparently Icelanders love books perhaps more than any other nation in the world, and every Christmas everyone will find at least one book under their Christmas tree.

 

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Bells ring out at 6.0 pm on Christmas eve and then Icelanders sit down to a formal meal:  many  listen to the service on the radio even if their families aren’t religious, just because this is the beginning of the Christmas celebrations.  Once the meal is over and cleaned up, the gift distribution (or book distribution) begins. In fact, it’s a tradition in Iceland to open the books and spend all Christmas Eve reading and drinking hot chocolate, or better still, to climb into the freshly cleaned sheets of your bed, in your new pyjamas, with your new book plus some chocolate, and spending the night under the covers eating and reading:)

Its interesting that chocolate in some form seems to go hand in hand with reading:  clearly I am Icelandic:)

I hope you get some good books this Christmas!

 

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You could not make this up!

Yesterday was a busy day here.

Work on the fence round the new veggie patch.

A trip to an Agricultural Merchant to buy fence posts, half posts, fencewire strainers, stock fencing and a sheep hurdle.

Some digging in said veggie patch and planting out the garlic since I assume the worst of the winter rain is now past.

It was hot and sunny and blissful to be working out of doors amongst burgeoning Nature.

As I removed the horticultural fleece from the Kale I joked that now it would snow.

And of course, it did, today.  But luckily it did not settle.

Whilst I was working in the warm soil and husband was stringing wire, we had a visit from someone we used to know many years ago and with whom we are not so much in touch nowadays.  A nice chap who went to the same Church that we frequented when we were Churchgoers.  As we have become backsliders and more agnostic he has remained loyal, faithful and very active in the Church even though he has changed denominations.

Half way through me planting the garlic he said to me,”Did you know that I am no longer preaching?”  I replied in the negative and asked why.  “Oh, they asked me to leave because of my hobby of writing erotic literature”

I did not see that one coming.  Luckily I was bending over looking at the earth so he could not see my face.

“But surely you write under a nom de plume?” I choked.

“Yes, but they found out anyway”.

“Well, that seems a little hard given they must believe that sex was invented by God”, I ventured.  “Of course, it might be different if it was considered pornographic.”

“Well, it is published on a rather extreme website,” he countered.

Silence from me for a moment.  I was having trouble with my breathing.  And anyway I needed to collect my thoughts.

“And you decided to choose to continue your writing rather than your preaching?”I queried, placidly planting more cloves.

“Oh, yes”.

Longer silence from me.  This from someone who had preached for over thirty years. Who had devoted his and his family’s life to supporting the local church. I was rather at a loss for words.

“Its very popular, I won a prize on the website last year and get thousands of hits”, he said.  “But of course it’s only e-publishing.”

“How’s the family?” I asked.

 

 

 

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OK back to the original order of events.

On the morning after L arrived, Friday, we went out as she needed to buy several things and wanted, like I had done, to re-acquaint herself with the area.

It was grey and overcast but dry.  As we walked the familiar streets L said, as I had felt, that it was so welcoming and familiar that she hardly felt she had been away.

I particularly like going through a small door in the corner of the Place des Vosges (if you did not know about the door you would never think of going through):

08.04.2015 034and being met with this:

08.04.2015 035the grounds of the Hotel de Sully, (Hotel was just a large house)

08.04.2015 037If you walk across the garden you find yourself outside one of my favourite bookshops which is situated in a room on one side of the passage leading straight through to a courtyard.  Its ceiling looks like this and it specialises in History:

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On and through the next courtyard and you are out onto the main shopping street of Saint Antoine.  The Hotel de Sully from the street (again, unless you knew you could go through, you would not think to enter):

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On the other side of the Place des Vosges, in the corner to the left of the tree in leaf, is Victor Hugo’s house, he of Les Miserables (NOT the musical!  Well, yes I suppose the Musical, at least the basic story), an author I really enjoy.  I always feel he was the Dickens of France.  The house is open to visitors for a small fee and well worth the visit.

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In between the little door leading into the garden of the Hotel de Sully and Victor Hugo’s house, is an archway leading to a side street:

08.04.2015 039with greengrocers, wine shops and bistros, as well as the obligatory shops for buying nick-knacks to take home.

We were expecting a friend, M, who is also L’s daughter-in-law,  to come and stay with us in the afternoon so L was anxious to buy some nibbles, and especially some good wine, to greet her.  M is Dutch, and was travelling down from the Netherlands to Paris this morning and decided to attend to a Hot Yoga Session run by a friend of hers since she was in Paris, before coming on to us.  M has been into Hot Yoga for four years now, but personally I don’t see the attraction!

After she arrived, all pink and fresh from her exercise and shower, we offered refreshment and sat and chatted all afternoon.  L managed her jetlag really wonderfully well, by taking a sleeping pill the night before and not allowing herself any sleep during the new day.  I did wonder if we were going to lose her at about three in the afternoon when she looked as if she might just fall asleep at the table, but she pushed through.

L had made a booking for the evening at a Bistro we used to love in our street, so we finally wandered down there at about 7.15 p.m.  Two doors down on the opposite side of the street from our flat is a Synagogue.  Nothing remarkable in that and we never gave it a second thought.  But tonight as we walked down to the Bistro we were met by the sight of six fully armed soldiers, with sub machine guns at the ready, on guard.  It was a shocking and sobering sight.

I never thought to see such a thing.

Our meal was OK but not wonderful and the dessert which L had been looking forward to, which I had had last time, was different.  On  that previous occasion, some years ago now, I had had an apple, baked and served hot in puff pastry with a glass of iced calvedos on the side.  It had been sublime.  This time a baked apple in filo pastry which was raw on the bottom appeared, but admittedly with the iced calvedos. L sent it back.  It appeared that the management had changed:  our first course of lamb with sweet potato was really shepherds pie with sweet potato mash.  Nothing to write home about and not as good as home made.  I was luckier with my dessert which was a dark chocolate shell containing mixed red berries.

But we had a lovely evening of chat and catching up with family news.

Walking back home last thing, the soldiers were still  there.  A shocking reflection of recent events.

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Charlie Ebdo

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I’ve recently been reading two long posts from Recollections of a Vagabonde at:   http://avagabonde.blogspot.co.uk    in the aftermath of the Charlie Ebdo tragedy.  I felt I really must point you over in her direction because her thoughtful and learned posts are really worthy of wide distribution, in my opinion: I suspect some of you read her blog anyway, but for those of you who do not, please go over and read:)  They are most enlightening.

 

P.S. Clip art in this post is from a site which WordPress assures me is copyright free, at : https://openclipart.org

 

 

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Just before Christmas I, husband and one grand-daughter went down to Warner Bros. at Watford to visit the studios where the Harry Potter films were made.

In fact, the visit was to redeem tickets which were last year’s Christmas presents.

We had a wonderful time, and I hope to post about it shortly, but we also bought a few souvenirs in the shop at the end.  Amongst which a chocolate wand, which mysteriously ended up in my stocking, a chocolate frog, which equally strangely ended up in husband’s stocking and a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, which I decided to take along  as a fun ending to Christmas Dinner.

The day began well with everyone in festive spirit:

10347771_10152932884992412_1385759663114105767_n.jpg after christmas lunch 3

although rather sleep deprived

10415657_10152932884707412_4309226746931141687_n.jpg after christmas lunch 5

with six of us sitting down to a traditionally groaning board

 

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followed by Christmas Pudding, Brandy Butter, Chocolate Log and cream, musical crackers, and then, the BBEFBs.

10882324_10152932885237412_8536669487588735445_n.jpg after christmas lunch 2

These were available, in the first film, on the express train to Hogwart’s, for sale from the refreshment trolly which came round.

Ron Weasley says to Harry,”You want to be careful with those.  When they say ‘Every Flavour’ they mean every flavour!”

The choices apparently on offer were: Banana, Black Pepper, Blueberry, Bogey, Candyfloss, Cherry, Cinnamon, Dirt, Earthworm,  Earwax, Grass, Green (Sour) Apple, Lemon,  Marshmallow,  Rotten Egg, Sausage, Soap, Tutti Frutti, Watermelon, and lastly, Vomit.

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 Now, being a dyed-in-the-wool cynic, I expected the manufacturers and salespeople to have ‘sanitised’ these flavours to make them acceptable to a wide audience.

I was wrong.

10425053_10152932885282412_3427172819248039622_n.jpg after christmas lunch

 

 We appeared to have got very few of the nice ones and nearly all the horrible flavours, and they were, really, really, horrid.

But, oh, such FUN!!!

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Recently I had a short visit to the USA during which I had the privilege of meeting with three blogging friends.

Home again, unpacked, washing done, jobs caught up with, almost.

Time for reflection.  And a feeling of incompleteness.

We talked from the beginning to the end of our meetings but there was so much that didn’t get said.  Any life, shortened to a brief autobiography naturally concentrates on the things that give life shape.  But there has been so much more in my life, of  pleasure, excitement and wonder that I did not mention.

So for them, and you, here are some of the bylines, mostly in chronological order .

1) The day that the handsomest boy from the local College saluted me in public by doffing his boater and bowing to me in front of a whole coach load of my peers – teenagers en route to school.

2) Meeting a student from Prague University when on holiday on a small island in Yugoslavia with my mother and sister: my mother then arranging for me to go off to stay with him and his mother on a one way ticket, with instructions to buy a return ticket when there, on the black market.  The grilling by the Communist police, having guards lift up floors and take down ceilings on the train going through the border from West Germany, camping illegally in hayhouses in fields, sleeping in a vagrants’ hostel when we had no money, getting felt-up in a German cinema when sheltering from the cold, walking through snow fields in the High Tatras to the edge of Poland whilst hanging onto chains with shoes falling to pieces, etc etc.

3) Flying a kite on the North Cape.

4)  Having a Japanese hitch hiker make Origami  butterflies to distract me from a reindeer cull in Lapland as we drove past.

5)  Marvelling at hot springs in a white-out in Yellowstone National Park.

6)  Staying in a palm- leaved roofed hut on a beach in Turkey when C. S. Lewis’s great friend, Roger Lancelyn Green, came by, complete with silver-gilt traveling drink set, and we sat on the sand under the stars drinking brandy while the sea murmured and sighed softly.

7)  Sitting on cushions on a platform in a tree, the outside dining room of a family in Turkey, eating fresh honeycomb, butter and warm rolls straight from the oven

8)  Taking a trip to Petra with my mother where a camel driver offered my mother several camels to buy me as an extra wife:  racing a camel round the pyramids going off into the sunset with a stranger as I bounced around unsteadily on the back of said camel, going I knew not where, with I knew not whom, but determined to make the most of the moment.

9)  Being shown round the bowels of a cruise ship by a Jordanian security officer who was guarding the ship, complete with sub-machine gun, who cornered me in a cabin and offered to give me a Jordanian baby.

10)  The Greek No. 2 Officer of said cruise ship who offered to show me the murkier night spots of Athens, much to my horror.

11)  Doing the night time feeds for my nephews whilst my sister slept.  Sitting in the stillness and quiet with a tiny baby who drank contentedly, looking up at me the whole time.

12)  Being taken on a private tour of a tomb in the Valley of the Kings by an Archaeologist when I mentioned that my father had been there in the 1930s digging with Sir Flanders Petrie.  She had special permission to visit a tomb closed to visitors because of the wonderful, fresh wall paintings, and she took me early one morning before the rest of the group were up.

13)  Standing, at 2.0 a.m. one cold morning  on a silent deck in the Dardanelles on the 60th anniversary of the Battle watching very old service men drop wreathes to their remembered comrades. Each alone, ranged round the deck, lost in his own thoughts.  I kept very quiet.

14)  Walking slowly alone through the room where Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill signed the Yalta accord in a handsome villa on a mountain side by the Black Sea.  Thinking – wondering – asking the floors and walls what was really said.

15)  Standing in a queue in Paris not knowing what language I had been talking to strangers, but all understanding each other.

16)  Sitting one New Year’s Eve in the Chapel in the Louvre as a Russian Choir sang soul-defyingly- beautiful folk songs and hymns, as outside the temperature dropped and the Seine rolled solemnly by to a New Year.

17)  Cold praline ice cream in a soft,  hot, sweet roll, sprinkled with icing sugar, walking through the Marais at night with the lights twinkling around me.

18)  Sheltering from the heat in St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai desert beside the Burning Bush.  Utter silence, stillness, and distance from civilization.

19)  Astounded by the beauty, colour and shapes of rocks in Arizona and the waterfalls in Yosemite: where a friend and I raced to complete three water-colour paintings each in a day.

20)  Lying, frozen with cold in a tent, under so many blankets that we could not move, listening to bears move in the forest.

21) Sitting in a box at the Bolshoi having walked earlier through a dimming Red Square with St.  Basil’s dome burnished by a late sun.

22) Visiting the Russian White House when our Foreign Office said not to travel, seeing the tanks, barracades and flowers all over the roads, and being offered Vodka by drunken Museum Officials who wept at the fate of Mother Russia and had learned their English from listening to the BBC and refused to charge us an entry fee because we were English.  Meeting in a dodgy back alley to exchange dollars for roubles at a better rate, whilst avoiding all the prostitutes who were soliciting my husband.

23) Standing pensively in Pasternak’s study in Peredelkino, looking through his window, by his desk where he wrote Dr. Zhiavago.

24) Visiting an artist I met in the street in Moscow, which entailed a long metro journey through brutalist tower blocks followed by an equally scary Trabant ride to an anonymous flat.  Going back next year with a suitcase full of clothes and necessities for his and his shy wife’s baby.

25) Going to the Kirov in St. Petersburg with a Texan Air Force fella we had met on the plane, who had never been outside the USA before and marvelled at what he was doing and where he was.

26) Exchanging scarves with a Russian lady on the Metro who fancied mine: getting lost and hitching a ride in a car to catch a plane.

27)  A terrifying helicopter trip over the Caucasus mountains in a machine whose seat belts not longer worked and where rain poured through the air vents in the ceiling: departing from an airport on which resided various crashed aircraft.  But a trip with views which were out of this world.

28)  Visiting a Caucasian public lavatory, where cubicle doors were unknown, and on entry one faced a line of anonymous bottoms hanging over holes in the floor.

29) Lying in a reindeer-drawn sleigh at night in northern Finland with my three year old grandson, who, as  we looked up at the stars, said, “This is something I will never forget”.

Somehow, amongst all the basic autobiography, none of this got mentioned.  Sorry ladies, that I never gave you the really interesting stuff;)

And now to this incomplete but illustrative list can be added, the magic of meeting friends made in the blogworld and a visit to the Met in New York to see Aida complete with live horses on the stage.

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There has been a long silence here; interestingly, several of the blogs I have been following for a long time seem to have been in a similar situation.  Perhaps we have all reached the same stage in life

Anyway, my silence has been because my health has been slowly improving and with each improvement I have been doing more.  Yippee.  But not good for my blog.

I have visited friends in Holland and had a wonderful weekend in Canterbury.  Recently I went to Chatsworth to see their Christmas Decorations.  This year the theme was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  I took masses of photos but here a few just as a very small Christmas Card for any reader here. Sorry for the focus, but lighting levels were difficult and I only had a few seconds to take the photos.

We (the public that is) began  by walking through a mock up of a house in World War II.  Then through the Wardrobe:

001.jpg   1.jpg  Entering the Wardrobe

and into Narnia.006.jpg  Entering Narnia

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Past the Lampost:

007.jpg   the Lampost

and various woodland creatures

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and the Beavers’ House:

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and onto Mr Tumnus’ house:

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And so to the Wolves, under the orders of the White Queen:

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The White Queen:

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Aslan’s Base Camp:

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Aslan dead on the Stone Table with mice moving and eating the ropes.

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The return of Aslan

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The Feast with the four children as Kings and Queens:

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Through the pavilion:

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To the Four Thrones

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And lastly, a bad photograph taken by a stranger of myself and ex- daughter in law.  The exposure was so bright that you could see next to nothing so I have had to change the settings, hence  the odd colouring!!  I am the one on the left as you look at the picture.

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I hope you all have a peaceful and happy holiday.

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