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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

OK then, the garden is put to bed for the winter, Eddie is home and doing well, the Christmas present shopping is all done, I have spoken to a local newspaper giving them an update on Eddie, I have been in conversation with the British Aviation Authority about my recent experiences with airport security, have celebrated our son’s birthday and I have booked a few days away at the beginning of December to go to Gloucester to see the Cathedral.  Every year I try to visit a different British Cathedral for the first Sunday in Advent.  I am not religious but love the tradition of Cathedrals and Cathedral Choirs so Gloucester is where I am going this year and hoping to connect with a treasured and old friend at the same time.

And I have been working hard on my Chinese travel diary.  But before I begin to post again about that I had a day out today which you might enjoy sharing with me: here in Sheffield we have a society called the Dickens Fellowship which is part of the world wide Dickens Fellowship.  I have loved his books since I was a child and our mother used to read us A Christmas Carol every Christmas Eve in front of our ancient inglenook fireplace by candle- and fire-light and therefore I am a member of this Fellowship.  And today was our annual day out.

This year we are visiting a local aristocratic country house/Stately Home,  Chatsworth House (a huge and famous one notably once the home of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire and used as the model for Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice) which has been decorated with a Dickens theme.

It was a warm, still day with a blue sky and we began in the old Stable yard

 

where the coaches and many horses used to live: this is now a place to sit outside and drink a coffee, or as today, a hot chocolate, visit the restaurant and the shop in the old stables.

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I especially love the fact that the lavatories are modelled on the old stables!!

 

 

Suitably comforted we made our way down to the Dickens decorations: the tickets were timed so that the crowds were not too  vast.

The main theme of course was, words.  Throughout his novels Dickens wrote over 4.6 million words and invented hundreds of words and phrases that have passed into everyday usage – butterfingers, slowcoach, devil-may-care, sassigassity, trumpery etc.

 

 

Decorations made from the printed word and  whole books themselves, were everywhere.

 

A Christmas Tree made of books:

 

 

There were attendants in costume of the time, and several Pearly Queens, reminiscent of the London which Dickens knew so well, and whose streets he walked for miles each night.

 

Vignettes from various books lined the corridor to the Chapel:

Tiny Tim’s Turkey,

 The window of t he Old Curiosity Shop,

There was the front door of Scrooge and Marley,

and Bill Sykes’s dog ‘Bullseye’ seemed to have got everywhere:

 

The Chapel was decorated lavishly

where the Ghost of Christmas Present was the theme: a reminder to Scrooge that those who surround themselves with friends, family, love and happiness are the richest of all.

The cloth under this throne was actually a beautiful red, not the rather shocking pink that my camera seems to have picked up!!

I thought the Chapel was cleverly lit, very understated and atmospheric:

The Anteroom to the Chapel was the interior of the Old Curiosity Shop, a modern take on curios – rare, unusual or intriguing objects – which although clever did not really impress me much.

From there we moved into a story of love and sacrifice, A Tale of Two Cities: a masterpiece of paper art in tribute to paper and the written word.

Which continued in stars, snowflakes and paperchains:

 

 

And found its apotheosis in houses built out of the very books in which they appear:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then moved into the Painted Hall

 

which had the theme of Dickens’ experience of walking in London and writing about all the characters he met on his night time travels.  A sound track of the Dawn Chorus was playing and a rather odd representation of Dickens was shown, musing upon his encounters:

Climbing the stairs,

we came to a small hall in which were Christmas trees for one to write a wish or message on a label, to attach to the tree.  These were situated beside a rather touching sculpture of sleeping cherubs:

 

and a bird’s eye view of the Hall below past an ancient baby carriage;

We then ascended a glorious staircase,

top be met by a very sinister scene at the very top:

It was Bill Sykes who warned me to watch my purse and that Fagin would have my scarf instantly if I was not careful: and then we walked into Fagin’s Den which I thought was wonderful.

Handkerchiefs adorned everything, some drying before the fire, others on the boys’ bunk beds.  Fagin himself was performing tricks with handkerchiefs in front of amazed children:

Who would have the imagination to form a Christmas tree out of bunk beds, straw and handkerchief bunting?

 

There was a wall showing video of Dickens’ London with smoke pouring from chimneys and snow falling over the roof tops, all in all a superb room.

On next to cabinets of memorabilia: Dickens knew the 6th Duke of Devonshire and stayed at the house and put on plays there, but was not a familiar ‘friend’ as such.  However, there were playbills, letters from Dickens, the Duke’s personal copy of Martin Chuzzlewit and other objects of interest such as his signature in the Guest Book :

I love these paper chains: a friend of mine said that her daughter found an old copy of A Christmas Carol which was falling to pieces, so she took the pages and made them into paper chains to give to her mother for Christmas.  Lovely, although I do not like the idea of ever destroying the written word!

We passed on into Scrooge’s bedroom, which had boxes of cash stored by the bed, a bath ready before the fire, and a figure of himself sitting in bed, shaking and shivering with fear

at a mirror in the corner of the room on which a ghostly presence came and went.

Passing through a hall at the top of some stairs we found a wall of oil portraits with moving spirits gliding across them, rather like in Harry Potter.

Then we saw the House Library decorated for Christmas and I would LOVE a library like this: it is so inviting and cosy.

Down a flight of stairs to be met by a bower of Cherry Blossom, some boots and other lucky Wedding paraphernalia and a poignant carving on a tree trunk:

 

 

It was very clear where we were going next, into Great Expectations.  And indeed, there was the defunct Wedding Breakfast

and poor Miss Haversham greeting us all and asking plaintively whether we were happily married.

Leaving her to her querulous questioning of other ‘guests’ we passed under a magnificent gold stags’ head chandelier in celebratory decoration:

and into the Statuary Gallery which was lit a strange blue colour, with yet another magnificent, albeit rather heavy, Eagle chandelier,

 

with the final message from Dickens:

And so to the ubiquitous Gift Shop where I found a sweet little star made from manuscript paper, and some gorgeous leather handbags, which were quite out of my price range, with appliqued book spines on them.Image result for yoshi bookworm bag

It took nearly two hours to go round and examine everything in detail and I felt it was worth the admission fee.  Next week it will cost much more and the crowds will be huge because the Christmas Fair will be in the grounds then too.  Today was quiet and peaceful and unhurried: a delightful way to spend our yearly outing, but actually quite tiring.

So, we felt we needed a quick bite to eat, a drink, and home.

Where actually, I fell into bed and slept for the rest of the day.  Mind you, I had been up since 4.45 a.m. settling in a new goldfinch, about more another time.  Perhaps!

I hope you enjoyed this tour with us.

 

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I have just seen this trailer for a new series by Jane Goodall and it looks wonderful.

Although it seems dreadful to utter the C word, we have had our first Charity Catalogues come through the post already so I might as well put it out there that I would like this Series for my present this year:)

https://www.masterclass.com/classes/jane-goodall-teaches-conservation?utm_source=Paid&utm_medium=YouTube&utm_term=Aq-Prospecting&utm_content=Video&utm_campaign=JG

Then I can go back to enjoying our wet, Spring-like August and praying for an Indian Summer through September and October to give me some kind of harvest this year.  It was too cold, wet and windy to plant out early, not really until late May, and it has come back in July, making for such a short growing season on the top of my hill.  The shortest I have every known.  I have just germinated some more French Beans and Sugarsnap peas because the last lot have not done well: these will need a couple of days to harden off and then I will plant them out, probably with fleece, to see if I can possibly get a bit of a harvest for the freezer.

Yesterday a photographer from the local paper came to take photos of me and Eddie:  he behaved like a pro but I was not very happy about having my own photo taken.  The photographer was a lovely young lady who said it made a change from football matches!!

Today I have been clearing piles of papers from several years ago and researching suggested supplements online for therapeutic ketosis and immune support.

Life has thrown us another curveball in that a house we have long had in the back of our minds for our old age has just come on the market.  But we cannot bear the thought of leaving our present home for at least four or five years.  So what to do?  It is unique, as our present house is, has even better views than we do and is just on the edge of the village instead of down the lane in a small hamlet.  The last owners of this other house have been there for 35 years so if we do not take the plunge now, will we lose the chance?

It is very expensive which might just take the choice out of our hands; we are having ours valued on Monday.  This other house is modern, smaller, and we would want to spend quite a lot and make some substantial changes, but it is on fairly level ground, five minutes from the bus, ten minutes from the doctor and shops, yet has a paddock which would take the geese and ponies, a stable and huge workshop garage, garden shed and is fully dog proofed.

However, it has street lighting which I hate, a busy road running past, and is semi-detached which we are not used to.  Oh dear, this is so very hard.  I know what I would say to someone else, but it is quite different when it is your own home you might have to leave, which you have loved and rebuilt over 40 years and where all your pets are buried and which has all the plants and trees from friends and family now deceased.  Here we just walk out of the gate onto a lane with trees all round, where we feel totally safe, comfortable and at home.  But good sense suggests that we think extremely carefully about our decision as in all the years we have been here, we have never seen another house, except for the one now for sale, which has things that we both need and want.

We went to look at it yesterday: it is not surrounded by trees as we are here.  When I went to bed last night our owls were hooting and chatting in the big trees outside the bedroom window. Our pheasants and badgers creep over the fields and through the undergrowth and the hedges we planted 30 years ago and wait for us to feed them every evening. How can we leave them?

But, if things go badly for me healthwise in the next little while it would be much easier for me to manage in this other house, and if I die before my husband, he could actually continue on in this new house whereas he says he could not manage here alone.  Oh, how hard it is to grow older physically but stay young mentally.

You have to admit that life on this hill is varied!

 

 

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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!

 

https://helenafairfax.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/iceland-1.jpg?w=300&h=200

 

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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 :

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/dec/14/god-rest-ye-merry-gentlemen-thriving-tradition-pub-christmas-carols

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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