Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

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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When we moved into our run-down and delapidated 200 year-old stone cottage we had restrictions placed upon us by both the mortgage company and the local Council.

bingley 2009 024

The mortgage company demanded that we replace all the old, wide, floorboards with narrow modern ones, and also replace the old plank doors which had latches, with modern panelled doors with doorhandles.  The Council demanded that we fill in with concrete all the drains in our back yard.  I refused point blank the former requests (being a cussed young woman even then) and covered the drain holes with stone flags so that they looked as if placed out of use, but were in fact just concealed.

We moved at the beginning of January, and were immediately faced with heavy snow:

2010-02-09 late winter bingley 107since we were living in one upstairs room with no heating other than an open bedroom coal fire, and one cold water tap downstairs hanging from the ceiling by baler twine, this was grim.  However, that is another story, and we just about survived.

But come the thaw and Spring, came the rains.

And 20 minutes after the first heavy shower began the kitchen began to flood.  When we were up to four inches and rising rapidly I went down the lane to our middle-aged neighbours (they were locals born and bred) to ask for help, my husband being unavailable.  The neighbour’s husband said we should not be flooding because the drains in the yard were built to avoid that very occurrence.  He came straight up to our cottage, helped me lift the stone flags off the drains and immediately the water began to vanish away; in the 40 years since we have been here we have never filled in or covered those drains again, or been flooded.  The drains run from the back yard, which is built into the hillside, under the cottage, and then release their burden 20 yards further on, into the lane in front of our house.

Thus began my relationship with these neighbours of ours who were to prove good friends indeed.  All through that first winter the wife invited me down to sit by their roaring fire, get warm, and have tea and scones with them each day at 4.0 pm, tea time.  One day she went to her old upright piano and began to play.  Tunes I had never heard before.  She gave me a dog-eared booklet full of songs, words which were equally new to me.  They were the Stannington Carols.  The original, old, country carols which still linger on here, although they have vanished in the rest of the UK.  They are named after local pubs, farms, cottages, cross roads and lanes.  And I love them.

Titles such as, Sweet Chiming Bells, Spout Cottage, Back Lane, Malin Bridge, T’owd Virgin ( The Old Virgin!), Stannington (our local village).  Later, when I joined a local choir, I had the opportunity to learn the alto part and sing these carols around the area.  But they are not the province of choirs alone: each year the local pubs are full of people who all know these carols, and there is standing room only for several hours of carol singing, robustly accompanied by alcohol.

They are quite distinct in style, repertoire and performance from the conception of carolling which arose in Victorian times.  These village carols predate the more well known carols by at least a hundred years, being composed by working people in the 1700s and 1800s. In fact, this singing of these carols in the pubs is the norm.

The tradition was explained to me thus: when England had her Civil War, Christmas was banned by Cromwell and consequently the singing of carols in church was also forbidden.  The country folk refused to give up their customs and took to singing in local houses and hostelries. Later on as the Church relented these carols were allowed back into Church services.  However, in Victorian times they were often considered to be too rowdy or lacking theological accuracy and were spurned once more. Thus for centuries the pubs have been the refuge of our local carols, and still are today, although sensible churches also give them ‘house-room’ now if they wish to please their congregations.  Musical accompaniment was not always available and thus the performance of unaccompanied part-singing has continued to this day.

Hearing the robust country voices, often with no music or words, just belting out these old carols in harmony, red-faced and enthusiastic makes one feel one is living, for a few hours, in a Thomas Hardy novel.  This is no conscious keeping-up of some outdated social practice, but living, breathing local history, which is lived and loved.

Sometimes the local silver or brass bands also come along to provide some accompaniment, and if there is a portable organ, that is wheeled out too.

The following Youtube clip contains 16 of our carols sung locally and I do hope you will take the time to dip into them, they are unique, and I love them.  As each ends, the next will begin automatically.

The Guardian newspaper has written about the singing in my valley at :


So, whatever your tradition, your culture or your celebration at this time of year, from mine to yours, I send you the very best of wishes for a Happy time from this village in the South Pennines of Yorkshire.

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On my recent trip to New York I saw these two cheerful chappies above the ice rink at the Rockerfeller Centre.  Whatever your views of the Salvation Army these two were putting their hearts into the job of fund raising.  This was only a small piece of them dancing, they went on for ages and must have been getting extremely tired.  But they put a smile on nearly everyone’s faces who passed by.

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Well, the hustle and bustle is over and I have a little more time for a catch up.

Having been away so much in the Autumn I had to prepare for Christmas in only one week.  We did it, just!  Although I have a lot of Christmas cards still to send – maybe they can be New Year cards.  No, too late for that.  Oh well, I will just write to friends instead.

Still we had some help – Theo (aged 11) decorated our Christmas cake for us this year:

Quite a busy scene!

We still have one corner left but it has gone fast and was really delicious.

On Christmas Day morning we had one present that we would never have thought of.  This is what we found when we went to feed the goslings: Chi sitting very comfortably indeed.

Tai was up and about but not Chi, she would not budge.  She turned round and got more settled, pulling straw over herself;

Finally she was DEEP in a straw nest:

We left her in peace and returned a little later to find that she had laid  . . . . .   her very first egg.  On Christmas Day:))))

I was so proud!!!

When we went over to the family for lunch they asked, hopefully, if it had been a golden one.  Honestly, a Christmas Day egg should be enough for anyone.

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Gosh, how I ache today!!






As you may remember two young girls, Ellie and Emma, have been coming to us for a few months now, to help look after and ride the ponies.

This last week they suggested that we clean out the stables before the winter:

so they arrived at 10.30 am on Sunday morning and finally left at 5.45 pm.  Of course I spent the day working alongside them.  Perhaps this was a step too far at the moment:(

I swept the ceiling boards and beams to get rid of all the ancient hay dust hanging there from the hay stored above: then there were the cobwebs to remove and the spiders to rescue.  Since we have lots of cows and therefore cowflies around this area, the spiders are essential in keeping the stables comfortable for the ponies, apart from their own intrinsic worth.  We found two hibernating Tortoiseshell butterflies as well and carefully worked round them so as not to disturb. The girls followed me round sweeping the walls: then they washed the windows, the walls and scrubbed the bucket holders while I scrubbed the rubber mats on the floors.  While the girls washed the large broom cupboard I scrubbed the doors and then all buckets and water holders, and wet wiped everything that would be going back into the stable.  The only things that there was not time for was to brush out and clean the last two mangers, although I did the third.

The building is airing today and this afternoon husband and I will put things back tidily so all will be spick and span for the winter. There are the feed bins for horses, geese, badgers and wild birds which live in the third, vacant stall: plus feed bowls, garlic powder, supplements, tack boxes, bedding bales, scissors (for cutting the hay bale string), knives (for chopping apples and carrots), brushes for cleaning water buckets and food skips, etc. etc.  All the bits and pieces of stable work.

While we were working the girls chatted, of course.  It turns out that neither has had a stable to look after before, hence their excitement.  They asked me if they could ask their parents for name plaques for Christmas  for the ponies and then hang one in each pony’s stall: then they rather diffidently asked if they would be allowed to bring in an Advent Calendar for each horse for Christmas.  They have been looking up special recipes on the net to cook treats to put in the advent calendar pockets:)  The younger one who is just thirteen was literally jumping up and down with excitement during this conversation: then followed suggestions for decorating the tack room for Christmas and putting tinsel on the horses’ bridles when riding.

I explained what we do on Christmas Eve, which is to always bring the ponies in, give them a really good thick bed and a special warm mash to eat with fruit and vegetables in.  I said how lovely it was to stand in the dark in the stable on that night, looking out at the stars, listening in the quiet to the sound of contented beasts eating, while the warmth of the horses and their food permeated the stable, with smells of fresh hay and resin from the wood chip bedding percolating around.  Somehow, it seems the right place to be.

(Incidentally, the other animals are not left out, but more nearer the time.)

Recently I gathered several facts about the girls.  Both have suffered from bullying at school and the younger one has a problem withstanding peer group pressure to dress inappropriately and spend her time shopping.  Her mother told me that she was so pleased that she has this interest in horses and now this opportunity, to help her stay strong and focussed on something she loves.

The older one tried to kill herself a year ago because of the bullying and has been removed from her grandparents’ farm because of family disputes: this means that she has had to sell her own horse that she kept there (NB it was in the barn with the cows and did not have a stable of its own).  She always wanted to work with animals and hoped eventually to be able to run the farm.  That seems unlikely now. Her mother also thanked us and said how pleased they were that she has this retreat to come to, where there are no family problems and she can spend time with the horses. She has left the school now and is retaking her exams at a local college where she is much happier.

We need no thanks, it is lovely for the ponies to have this attention and more care than we could give them at the moment, and we love having the youngsters around, with their energy and enthusiasm.

Life is so strange.  Sometimes there is this happy serendipity, yet on other occasions such tragic occurrences.  I can’t make head or tail of it, just try to do my bit. But I am thrilled if we can make a difference just by living here and sharing it around a little.  I certainly would never have thought that these two horse-mad girls needed our ponies and this place so much.  We are very privileged to be able, unwittingly, to help.

There was also mad talk of Easter time, threading yellow ribbons in the horses’ manes, and putting little nests with chicks on the numnahs.  Goodness only knows what be suggested next!

So at the moment I am sitting in bed, aching all over, with laptop on knees, writing this post:) I go back down to the hospital in London tomorrow so really must rest today.

I wish I had had time to get my camera repaired because it would have been fun to add photos to this story.  But with being in London for the most part of each week at the moment, there has been no opportunity.  But I hope you get the picture.

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Monday 13 December.

Up reasonably early after a good night’s sleep and so pleased to have the packing just about finished last night.  The first thing I did was to phone the taxi service and as usual it was galling to hear how good their English was.  It is always rather frustrating when you ask something in French and they reply in English but as one person said to me they need to practice and are always pleased for an opportunity to speak English, especially if you have shown your interest in trying to speak French at the beginning of the conversation.

We had an interesting breakfast made up from left-overs (!) and then to clean the flat, fold up the bedding and put the very last things in the suitcases.  We even had time for a sit down and a last drink before we went downstairs to wait for the taxi.

It was a glorious morning, bright blue sky and blazing sun although not much warmth in it.   The taxi driver said it was colder than yesterday and that made the traffic worse: apparently there is always more traffic when it is cold.

Husband carried a large rucksack and holdall full of boots, shoes and books  and I carried my laptop backpack and wheeled the two suitcases.  It definitely needed two of us to cope with the luggage.  He said in future I must always travel by air because that would limit my luggage allowance.  Not sure about that, there is always ‘shipping’ by sea!

Quickly through Customs and British Police Control then the usual waiting until called, the rush to the train, the bustle with luggage and then everyone was on the train and settled.  Leaving the Gare du Nord I saw a ‘car wash’ for trains, I have never seen one  before.  Then a pleasant run through the French countryside passing through very large arable fields (by UK standards at least) most with young growth showing well, long straight tree-lined roads and small villages with orangey-red rooftops and white Church steeples.  There were large patches of woodland but I did not see many hedges.  As we travelled further north there were lots of bunches of mistletoe growing on the trees, looking for all the world like rookeries with untidy nests.

I began to notice patches of snow in the deeper furrows where there was shade: at one stage we hit a patch of countryside favoured by dogwood, as there were many patches of bright red growing and glowing all over the place, and even young bushes along the railway.

The entry into the Eurotunnel was unannounced, unprotected and unheralded, as we came up to the opening and just dived inside.  Unlike the British side where the lines are all fenced off by very high wire fences as soon as you emerge.  We were only under the channel for about 15-20 minutes but came up to grey skies and lots of patches of snow as we travelled through Kent.  The temperature soon penetrated the train and it was clearly much colder.  An uneventful run up to London except our train was halted outside St. Pancras station as a bomb scare precluded any trains being allowed in.  However, we must have arrived towards the end of the scare as we were not held up for very long.  A quick scuttle through Customs ensued as we were a bit late arriving and our onward train was due to leave soon, so we were all hurrying to get through en masse.  We were not stopped or asked to show documentation at the station, unlike at the Gare du Nord, but I noticed about four or five men, a couple in uniform, the rest in suits, watching the crowds carefully, obviously scanning for someone in particular.   There were probably many more watches which I did not notice.

So one more manouevering of suitcases on to the next, and hopefully last, train where we got settled and ate our lunch which we had bought on the platform.  Interestingly, as we got further north there was no snow at all, but the grey clouds and chill continued.  Although we had actually put our watches back an hour it was getting noticeably darker from three o’clock British time and felt rather dismal after the glorious weather in Paris.  But everyone was pleasant and cheery: it did feel strange though, as though I had one foot in both countries , and not really entirely in either.

The Paris flat was so warm and cosy I am rather dreading going back to a damp and cold stone cottage where you count every therm of heating and hot water: especially with all the snow, ice and cold.  I don’t know where I want to be now!!!

The friend who came over to stay with me is coming to meet us at the station which is very kind of her.  Back into the routine of daily life now, with a flute lesson and the dentist this week: not exactly like going from the sublime to the ridiculous but certainly from the exotic and exciting to the domestic and humdrum.  I’ll have to see what can be done about that:)

But I’ll be home for Christmas and it will be lovely to see the animals, friends and family again.  And a white Christmas this year.  Very unusual.

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