Saturday 31 December 2011

Driftin' on by

Birds flying high, you know how I feel
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze driftin' on by, you know how I feel

It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good.

It's a New Year.
Hope you're feeling good!

Tuesday 27 December 2011


My favourite game of the season - Bananagrams.
In Danish.

Now you must excuse me,
I have a boxed set of The Killing
to get through.


Saturday 24 December 2011

Christmas in a certain house

I will set down here exactly what Christmas still is 
in a certain house in England, how it is observed,
and all the domestic rites accompanying it
in their detail and warmth.

Of the long oaken table from out of one of the Oxford colleges
when the Puritans looted them three hundred years ago...

This table, roughly carved at the side,
has been polished with wax since it first began to bear food for men,
and now the surface shines like a slightly,
very slightly, undulating sea in calm. 
At night the brass candlesticks (for this house is lit with candles,
as the proper light for men's eyes) are reflected in it
as in still brown water;
so are the vessels of glass and of silver and pewter,
and the flagons of wine.
No cloth is ever spread to hide this venerable splendour,
nor, let us hope, ever will be.

Now the way Christmas is kept in this house is this:
On Christmas Eve a great quantity of holly and laurel 
is brought in from the garden...
This greenery is put up all over the house in every room
just before it becomes dark on that day.
Then there is brought into the hall a young pine tree,
about twice the height of a man, to serve for a Christmas tree,
and on this innumerable little candles are fixed,
and presents for all the household and the guests
and the children of the village.
It is at about five o'clock that these last come into the house
and at that hour in England, at that date,
it has long been quite dark; so they come into a house
all illuminated with the Christmas tree shining like a cluster
of many stars seen through a glass.

They are each given a silver piece and after that 
they dance and sing songs then visit the crib,

And here, again, tradition is so strong in this house
that these figures are never new-bought,
but are as old as the oldest of the children of the family,
now with children of their own.
On this account, the donkey has lost one of his ears,
and the old ox which used to be all brown
is now piebald, and of the shepherds,
one actually has no head.

Then the people of the house,
when they have dined, and their guests, with the priest
who is to say Mass for them, sit up till near midnight.

Then the great oak Yule log is brought in.

and the rule is that it must be too heavy
for one man to lift;
so two men bring it in from outside,
the master of the house and his servant.
They cast it down upon the fire in the great hearth 
of the dining room, and the superstition is that,
if it burns all night and is found still smouldering in the morning,
the home will be prosperous for the coming year.

Next morning they sleep late,
and the great Christmas dinner is at midday.
It is a turkey; and a plum pudding,
with holly in it and everything conventional,
and therefore satisfactory, is done.
Crackers are pulled, 
the brandy is lit and poured over the pudding
till the holly crackles in the flame
and the curtains are drawn a moment 
that the flames may be seen.
This Christmas feast, so great that it may be said 
to almost fill the day, they may reprove who will;
but for my part I applaud.

Extracts from
A Remaining Christmas
 Stories, Essays and Poems
by Hilaire Belloc,
given to my mother by my father for Christmas 1965.

This plaque is thought to have been commissioned
by Hilaire Belloc's daughter-in-law
when she had the house built for herself.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Digging in drawers

I ran out of wrapping paper.

This is lining paper 
and some old Christmas ink stamps
which I found in the art drawer 
 in a huge oak plan chest which now serves as
a base for a spare mattress.
It's full of reminders of past projects -
lino cutting, collage, scrapbooks,
watercolours, charcoal drawing,
stencils, reams of coloured tissue paper,
hand made papers, acrylic paints,
calligraphy equipment, badge making,
wallets of glossy photographs, origami papers,
picture frames, sugar paper, mounting boards.
Like my kitchen drawer,
it is as revealing as an archaeological dig.

Speaking of which. 
We received planning permission for a small extension,
but it must be carried out under a watching brief
from archaeologists while the ground work takes place
in order to record any items of historical interest.
This is simultaneously rather exciting,
(visions of Time Team digging
exploratory trenches, bring in geo phys equipment
and whisking me into a helicopter to survey the emerging
Iron Age settlement)
and bloody annoying because this spells extra expense
and further delay.
I once worked on a rescue dig in what is now Milton Keynes.
We scraped very, very slowly with our tiny trowels,
and washed and bagged up countless shards of pottery
before the diggers were allowed to tear the ground up.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Winter solstice visitor

Not one glimmer of sunlight
on this the shortest, darkest day of the year.
Here's some sun I saw earlier.

I think I may have made my last trip to Sainsbury's,
the one where I use up all my Nectar points.
I baked a ham.
O. made up a jar of Jamie Oliver's hot chocolate mix,
I will make waffles - a first,
and we will welcome a university friend from Chicago.
I can get her verdict on my peppermint bark.

Monday 19 December 2011

Advent window trip

This year the theme for the advent windows
was Christmas songs and carols.

I didn't get round all of nineteen windows
so far opened, because I took an unscheduled
tumble over a step in the dark.

The main thing that you feel as you crash slowly
towards the ground is
And when you find yourself there
you take an inventory of working and not working parts
and decide that sitting on  a cold grass verge
in the dark
is preferable to trying to stand up.
Then you realise that you have absolutely no choice
and must stand up and make everything
a good deal worse.
The bruises from the keys in my pocket 
were the most surprising.
The rip in my glove saved me from a worse rip in my hand,
and the other hand is now encased in tubigrip
which is a good deal better than having it encased
in a plaster cast.
The first landing knee is protesting.
Squeezing a flannel is hard.
Tearing loo paper
(sorry but it has to be said)
needs an inventive solution involving your elbow.
 I am the world's worst whingiest patient
so thank you family and friends
for bearing with me.
And JofIndia
before you ask -
no, I was not all lit up!

Saturday 17 December 2011

Friday 16 December 2011

Sugar high 2

It is at this time of year that I begin to read about

peppermint bark on American blogs.

It is spoken of with real affection and slight nostalgia.
Layers of dark and light chocolate are
sprinkled with crushed red and white candy canes
 and  flavoured with peppermint.

I determined to make my own,
but nothing is quite the same here.
I had to use mint humbugs,
(rather more brown and white than red).
I wasn't sure if my cream was heavy enough.

There wasn't enough white chocolate in the cupboard
so I added a milk chocolate layer.
But I put it in a nice jar and saved the trimmings as cook's perk.

because that's traditional too,
and saved the trimmings as cook's perk.

The cook is feeling quite perked up now
and may not sleep tonight.

Monday 12 December 2011

The Candle Factory

Demi-tasse cups, a Denby Greenwheat mustard pot 
and some posh yogurt jars,
wick cotton, sustainers, glue dots to anchor
the sustainer to the bottom of the pot,
pliers to squeeze the sustainer closed over the wick,
something to centre the wick in the pot,
eco soya wax flakes, a bain marie,
essential oils, (sweet orange and clove mostly),
 two pourings of the melted wax to eliminate a dip by the wick -

it's a fiddly business,
but completely addictive.
I can't pass a charity shop now
without eyeing up the china shelf for likely containers
and kind friends bring me things they find on their travels.
Some of the pretty vintage ones
have even gone into a local shop for Christmas
but they won't make my fortune
as I barely cover my costs.
It's just a bit of fun.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Fire works

Sun set.

Moon rise.

Ceremonial first lighting of wood stove.

I don't think these will last very long.

Wednesday 7 December 2011


I was lucky enough to go to a kindergarten
that fostered an appreciation of each season.
Nature tables were preceded by nature walks
through open fields now overbuilt.

We germinated runner beans in snug
cocoons of pink blotting paper
coiled into jam jars.
About now we would sit a fat hyacinth bulb
in its jar and hide it in the cupboard.

The school garden provided chinese lanterns, honesty,
conkers, sycamore seeds, and sticky buds to unfold
in the warm classroom.

Most of the classrooms were just the 
large reception rooms of an old house
and on each landing there was a grandmother clock,
which, should we need to go to the indoor loos,
we had to run past. 
They had faces and anything might be hiding in the long case.
The bookshelves smelt peppery and I quickly exhausted them. 
Only Greyfriars Bobby was left to read
and I knew better than to open that.

In the basement kitchen, Minnie the cook 
laboured over the boiling cabbage,
and set out the milk crates with 1/3 pint bottles for break time.
I went home for lunch and was spared the cabbage
and the after lunch sleep, but there was no escaping
 the slightly curdled milk on a warm day.

The bread man called at the back door
with his basket of loaves
and called me Lucinda.

Fire drill meant climbing out of the huge sash windows 
into the front garden.
One of the classrooms was outside in a pre-fab
and the walls were soft gloss painted asbestos boards.
The main block of miniature toilets 
was no more than a glorified shed 
smelling wonderfully of creosote.
The Health and Safety brigade would have had conniptions.

There was a rose garden with a stone bench
 (on which we sanded and smoothed our hands)
and an arbour of New Dawn.
A slope in the lawn was there for rolling down
in our brown gym slips.

The formal playground had three graduated metal climbing bars
on which we dangled and perched, 
two legs over and swinging forward terrifyingly 
towards the unforgiving tarmac,
or for the more circumspect, one leg hooked over
and swinging backwards which for some reason 
was called a strawberry basket.

There was a sand pit and a wildly dangerous rotating see-saw.
One new girl was a fast runner and we would call her:
'Dido!' 'Dido!'
'Come and push us.'
And she did. With her skinny legs and her skinny plaits.
But one day she tripped and fell and was badly hurt.
We spun giddily over her prostrate body.

Miss Gwendolyn Harris played the piano and taught us our tables
which we chanted.
Six sixes are thirty six.
Six sixes are thirty six.
Miss Macpherson was stern and told me to sit still
when a wasp came into the room.
I did and it stung me on the knee under the desk.
When I screamed she made me stand in the corner of the room.

We had 'News' once a week.
You could bring 'Showing News' or 'Telling News'.
One girl brought a different foreign doll 
from her vast collection each week.
You waved your hand urgently to be chosen to go up.
I waved my hand stretched as high as it would go
and never expected to be chosen.
Fatally one day, I was called to front.
I had nothing to say and nothing to show,
but I fished desperately in my blazer pocket
and found an elastic band.
I produced it with a flourish.
'It's magic,' I said.
'It will fly to the back of the room and return to me.'
The class looked impressed.
Miss Macpherson looked dubious.
I pinged it and it landed at my feet.

Miss Marjorie Butler was tall and gentle. 
She gave me mental arithmetic sums to do
because I begged her to on walks.
She read to us and let us draw.
I remember loving Carbonel by Barbara Sleigh.
I never wanted it to end.

And what has opened these flood gates?

The cool, fresh air smell,
of mimosa.

Monday 5 December 2011

Green flames

My first bowl of Paperwhites
were up and over in a blink of the eye.
I started again and am willing them to last
until Christmas, but I swear I can hear them

The heating is restored,and the mild weather 
helped to minimise the inconvenience,
but it was a good excuse 
to warm up some apple juice with
cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice and brown sugar.
It's nice on muesli too.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Chilly perch

The central heating has broken down.

Friday 2 December 2011

Fab gear

I don't think I was quite old enough
to be a smart young chick in 1964 

and I certainly couldn't afford a Tuffin and Foale dress,
but the article was right,
Habitat did reach out into suburbia
and I was able to get my fix of
stripped golden pine and chicken bricks eventually.
I still have the butcher's block

and the soup tureen, 
although lately I have been planting hyacinths in it
as transferring the French Onion Soup into it from 
the Le Creuset is just too much trouble.

In the rather sparsely labelled exhibition,
The Way We Live Now at the Design Museum,
they were marking Sir Terence Conran's 80th birthday.
What a busy man he has been.
See here for his own not quite comprehensive list -
he omits to mention writing his many books.
His cookery book is well thumbed on my shelf.
Elizabeth David was his guiding light.
He opened a restaurant in Neal Street, 
Covent Garden in the early 70s
 and we went there for our lunch on our wedding day.

The new Habitat catalogue was eagerly awaited
and pored over. 
Cork mats, bean bags, duvets
and cheery enamel coffee pots
were all so wantable.
There was, as the article said, 
'a feeling, particularly among young shoppers,
that they want to make shopping for the home
an impulsive, gay affair.'

If only I had been consulted,
I could have helped them with the curating of this exhibition,
and not only with my pertinent reminiscences.

They displayed one of his original fabric designs for
David Whitehead,
and I just happen to have a copy of 
House and Garden from April 1953

in which it is advertised.