Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Snowy Shropshire

Hello, thank you for calling in.  I am feeling a bit sheepish.  I have been hugely distracted by the weather and I have neglected you for longer than I intended.  Sorry.

We knew that the snow was coming in on Friday but we didn't know how much of it there would be: it began to fall early in the morning and by the end of the day there was 15cm.  We didn't have a single flake last winter and it's several years since we saw this much snow, so on Saturday the Best Beloved and I decided to cast our plans aside and make the most of it.  When we opened the bedroom curtains we were greeted by this glorious sight, my beloved hawthorn dressed all in white in front of a blue sky - 



The Best Beloved donned his boots and ventured out into the back garden to assess the situation.



Then we set off for Wenlock Edge in the car.  However, we got as far as the River Severn before discovering that the rest of the road was closed, so we turned the car eastwards and drove along beside the river through a winter wonderland.  The road is lined with trees and their leafless branches looked SO beautiful dressed in white.  We parked the car so that the Best Beloved could get out and take some photographs of the power station, no longer operative and due for demolition next year.  The cooling towers have been part of the landscape of the Gorge for fifty years, extra money having been spent to stain the concrete when they were built in an effort to make them fit more harmoniously, and many people hoped that they would be retained when the rest of the complex is demolished, but it's not to be, the whole lot will be demolished and replaced by new housing.



When we reached Ironbridge, we parked the car and went for a little walk.  






Everywhere I looked, I gasped with delight.  There were a few people around, but not many, and I felt a bit sorry for the shopkeepers who must have been expecting lots of trade on this December Saturday, but I also felt very happy to be in this other-wordly atmosphere, away from the usual hustle and bustle.  It was strange really, the snow made everything feel very Christmassy but the quiet fought against that.  Perhaps it was a proper Advent hush?

The snow began to fall again in the early hours of Sunday morning and continued all day, not stopping until after we had gone to bed.  Many churches and businesses were closed because their staff simply couldn't get to them.   I sat beside the window watching six or seven blackbirds sheltering within the snow-laden holly bush outside, systematically stripping its branches of berries and regularly squabbling noisily.  Knowing that we had plenty of food and fuel and no need to go out anywhere, it felt rather special.  I sent the Best Beloved out into the garden again on Monday morning and he reported back that we had a further 10cm of snow, so 25cm altogether (that's 10" in old money).  Having been brought up on the south coast of England, he said that it's the biggest snowfall he's ever seen.  He was VERY excited.  We are not used to dealing with deep snow in this country and we don't cope with it very well: only the main roads are cleared or gritted so many people find themselves unable to get their cars out of their streets.  Consequently, a rather celebratory atmosphere descends and the air is full of laughter as schools are closed and parents take their children out to build snowmen, throw snowballs and generally make the most of the white stuff. We did this, too: we drove to The Teacher's house (very slowly) so that the Best Beloved could take her out to play on the sledge his father bought for him and his siblings when he was a child, but not before she ensured that Tom Kitten was the fourth generation of his family to enjoy a ride.

There's something else I'd like to share with you: three hospitals in this county put out a general call for owners of 4x4 vehicles to help with transporting staff to and from the hospitals so that services could be maintained and it seems that people rose to the call magnificently, asking that their passengers made donations to the hospitals or to the local air ambulance in return.  One driver reported that he had four hours sleep in two days, he was so busy.  Staff, too, stayed beyond the ends of their shifts to ensure that wards and clinics wouldn't have to close.  Now that amount of goodwill is, it seems to me, very Christmassy.

See you very soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x



Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Experiencing Christmas

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  It turns out that I am rubbish at blogging every day.  I was overambitious.  Sorry.  Perhaps I should simply attempt to blog every other day and then if I did manage every day, the extras would be a bonus?  Hmm.

This week I have been helping schoolchildren to learn about the reason Christmas is called Christmas rather than, say, Dickensmas in an event called Experience Christmas which takes them through the story from The Annunciation to Epiphany.  It does feel rather early in the month, but the schools here break up for the holidays at the end of next week, a full ten days before Christmas.  I don't know which local authority official made that decision and I suspect he or she will have to keep a low profile because I don't actually know any parents who want to have their hyped-up, overexcited children at home for all that length of time, but I suppose it gives teachers time to prepare for their own celebrations...unless they have hyped-up, overexcited children of their own at home, of course.  So far, one hundred and eighty children have sat on the mats in front of me, listened, reacted and reflected.  I am enjoying it very much and I think the children are, too.

Here is Mary's kitchen, where she was busy with domestic chores when the Angel Gabriel appeared out of nowhere to tell her that she was going to have a very special baby - 

Snapped rather hastily on my 'phone just before the children arrived.

As I asked the children, how would you feel if you were in your kitchen and you turned round to find a great, big, shining, warrior of light standing there, calling your name??  Exactly! 

Bookending the story, at least for the time being, is Epiphany and here is my gold, frankincense and myrrh - alternatively, as one child put it, my gold, Frankenstein and myrrh!  There's always one.


I can take no credit for these lovely scenes, other people have prepared them and I simply turn up in the mornings and deliver, along with some friends.  I have been well looked after with Earl Grey tea and mince pies and all the children, whatever their ethnicity or belief, have gone home with a little more knowledge about the origins of Christmas, some thoughts about how it's relevant to them and a chocolate coin.  Teachers, I hope, have gone away with a positive view of the church and its place in its community (we have received feedback that we are well-organised and very welcoming).

Today is 6th December, St Nicholas' Day, a day to celebrate the patron saint of children and at this time when I don't have any little people at home I am glad to have been given this opportunity to be around other people's little people and share some Christmas with them.

See you tomorrow, or maybe the day after.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x


Monday, 4 December 2017

On Advent Sunday...

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  If you dropped in yesterday expecting to find a new post I am very sorry - my good intentions failed on only the 3rd December.  Sigh.  My excuse is that we went to see The Mathematician, who won't be home from university until a few days before Christmas and who is feeling the academic pressure.  We got home later than we intended after a lovely day with her and although there was still time for me to fulfil another part of my Advent plan, there wasn't enough time to write about it here. 

Yesterday was Advent Sunday, the fourth Sunday before Christmas.  I have sought some clerical clarification about when Advent begins in the Anglican church and received the answer that...it's debatable!  Apparently, if we are observing Advent personally in our homes it begins the day after the Feast of Christ the King, so that's six days before Advent Sunday. However, it doesn't begin in terms of church worship until Advent Sunday.  If the clergy can't work out a definitive answer, I don't think there's any hope for the rest of us!  

So, now we are all definitely in the season of Advent, which I love for its quietness, its candles, its preparations, its treats and the bubble of excitement which I can feel starting to surface.  Advent is a waiting time but not one of those when a sense of dread hangs over you, rather a time when we are looking forward to all the lovely things which will happen at its end.  I like to make a little step along the journey every day.  Over the weekend I cleared a shelf on the bookcase and put up my crib. -

Sorry this pic is overexposed.  I took it on my 'phone and I just couldn't get the lighting right: too dark with no flash and overexposed with flash.

We didn't have a crib at home when I was a child but I was always a bit obsessed with other people's and when an elderly friend asked me if she could give me hers more than twenty years ago, I was thrilled.  She wanted to pass it on to a good home because her son had bought her a new one from the Holy Land and as The Teacher was only six years old, my friend thought that she would like it.  She did and although it's not grand in any way and the figures are only plastic, it has woven its way into the fabric of our Christmas celebrations.  For some inexplicable reason, we couldn't find it last year and I felt a bit out of sorts without its comforting presence but a few weeks, ago, the Best Beloved bore it up from the cellar triumphantly, which really was odd because we have always kept it in the loft.  So here is the stable, humble and a bit shabby, which is entirely fitting if you think about it.  Mary, Joseph and the donkey haven't arrived yet because they are still travelling and so obviously, the shepherds and wise men haven't yet received any Good News, so they haven't arrived either.  There is just a solitary cow in the stable, waiting.  I hope she is as excited as I am.

See you tomorrow, hopefully.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x


Saturday, 2 December 2017

Advent Candles

Hello, thank you for dropping in, you are very welcome here.  If you read yesterday's post you will know that I am trying to write something here every day during December - well, perhaps every day between now and Christmas - and share my festive preparations with you.

I love candles at any time of year and really, at any time of day - I lit a candle while I had a bath yesterday morning - and so it seems natural that I count down the days to Christmas with an Advent candle.  I don't have an Advent wreath because we have so little space, but I can always find room for one solitary candle.  When my girls were small it was a special moment, the nightly lighting of the candle, and it was a useful way of showing them how many nights there were left before the huge excitement of Christmas Eve, but I think it was really for me!  The significance of one little flame dispelling the darkness is something I find both comforting and hopeful.

A couple of years ago I found a set of numbered Advent tealights and discovered that I preferred them to the traditional candle: for a start, they burned for much longer, and secondly, I didn't have to keep an eye on them to make sure that I didn't burn too many days at once, which often makes me a little anxious.  Nope, light the tealight, enjoy it for a couple of hours and once it's out, that's it, plenty of room for distraction and no harm done.  So, this year, these are my Advent candles - 


I bought this set in Laura Ashley a few days before Christmas last year, reduced from £16 to £5 and yes, I know £5 is a bit hefty but the price included the star-shaped tealight holder and I feel quite sure that I shall use it outside of Advent.  I always buy my Advent candles when the price is reduced in December and the miracle is that I can always find them the following year in time for Advent!  So now we are counting down, marking off the days one tealight at a time.


See you tomorrow.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Friday, 1 December 2017

So When Does Advent Begin?

Hello, thank you for popping in.  It's lovely to see you here.  Today is the first day of December and in the absence of any Bah Humbug from the Best Beloved, I am allowing the excitement to commence and, inspired by Marie at Candytuft Corner, who blogged every day in November, I am going to try to share some of my festive preparations here every day.  

I am not really sure when Advent begins this year: I had thought it to be on Advent Sunday, the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which is 3rd December, but last week an Anglican vicar told me that it begins the day after the Sunday on which the church celebrates Christ the King, which would mean that it began on Monday, 27th November.  Hmm.  However, as most calendars and calendars count down the days to Christmas from 1st December, I decided that I could begin my preparations today, which actually seems rather late, given the number of people who put up their Christmas trees last weekend.  I have never known so many people to put up their trees in November before and I wonder if they have thought, "Right then, it's Black Friday so that must mean it's Christmas."  I find it all quite odd.  Don't get me wrong, I love a Christmas tree but I like it to be just that, a Christmas tree, rather than a NovemberandDecember tree.

Another thing I like is mince pies.  I went to a meeting on 1st November and my lovely baking friend, who makes particularly good mince pies, had brought some of the delicious treats to keep us fuelled but as I was "keeping Christmas in December" I very politely declined, although I had to sit on my hands while I did so to stop one (or two) finding its way onto my plate.  My friend knows me well enough to understand and on Wednesday, after another meeting, she gave me a little package with instructions to open it today, which I did.  This is what I found - 


Isn't she lovely?  I really do have some wonderful friends.  So this evening, after dinner, I took a mince pie plate out of the bottom of the dresser and ate one in a proper fashion.  I might have another one in a minute, they are delish.  Christmas is coming, it's official.


See you tomorrow.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Thursday, 30 November 2017

November Light

Hello, thank you for calling in.  November is almost over and I haven't shared any of it with you, so I reckon I should get a move on because December is almost upon us.

November has, for me, been all about light and colour.  On the first Saturday of the month I spent a day training in a village hall in the Shropshire countryside.  The sky was deep blue, the sunlight still retaining the golden hue I always associate with April and October.  It was warm enough for us to sit outside to eat our lunch and enjoy this view - 


The Best Beloved and I went to walk in the woods on Wenlock Edge, enjoying the intense colours which the sunshine flamed.


 



I crocheted another rainbow baby blanket.  The Teacher is so pleased with the one I made for Tom Kitten that she has asked me to make some more for her pregnant friends and of course I agreed - I am thrilled that there are young women who like handmade blankets!


As the month progressed, the blue skies paled and most of the leaves lost their hold on the trees, although the oak leaves are still clinging on.  We went out for a walk in the woods with The Teacher and Tom Kitten, I like to think that it's never to early to introduce a child to the wonders of the woods (he was seven weeks old) but he slept his way through it and didn't notice the sky darken as the sun set below the horizon.



Of course, November is also about Christmas lights as our towns become all twinkly in an effort to persuade us to venture forth and spend money in their shops.  I LOVE Christmas lights, indoors and outdoors, and when I was younger I used to love the bustle of the shops at this time of year in the evenings, when their warm light spills out to dispel the darkness and the twinkles are twinkling up above.  Last Sunday afternoon the Best Beloved and I went to the theatre in Shrewsbury and this is what The Square looked like at 4.30pm. - 


For the last few years, my Christmas celebrations have been rather muted; there have been gifts and some decorations, there's been family and modest feasting but it's all been a bit low-key and the Best Beloved's stated aversion to Christmas music, films and television has prevailed.  This year, however, I think - I hope - it's going to be different.  He says that he is ready for it this year.  Perhaps it's because of the light a new baby has brought into our lives?  

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x 




Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Half Term Holiday Highlights (and Lowlights)

Hello, thank you for calling in, it's good to see you here.  Rough winds are shaking the last darling leaves from the hawthorn tree outside my window and I think it will be bare by the end of the day, leaving its twiggy skeleton stark against the grey sky.

During half term week the Best Beloved and I took ourselves, just ourselves, away to Anglesey for a few days.  This was our main holiday this year - we had planned to go during August but the arrangements fell through, so I was really looking forward to this break on the island I love.  I booked a lovely little house through Airbnb, a little house we have stayed in before, so we knew exactly how lovely it would be. 

We travelled on the day Storm Brian made his presence felt along the west coast of the country.  Now, we do like "weather", in fact, I have been known to describe the Best Beloved as "a weather anorak", so we were not put off by this and, making sure that we had appropriate clothing to enable us to cope with "weather", we set off early and excited and drove to South Stack on the northwest of the island.  We wanted to watch the storm over the sea, see the waves crash against the cliffs and the lighthouse.  There is a good café there and we planned to have a pot of tea and watch the storm hit the lighthouse out of the window.  However, when we arrived and parked the car, this was the view through the windscreen -


We actually ventured out of the car, which took a while because the wind was so strong that we couldn't open the doors so we had to wait for it to die down!  Once out in the wind, the raindrops hit my face painfully like needles, so we didn't last long before we fell back into the car, bedraggled and laughing.  Unfortunately, the café was closed, presumably because of the storm, and there was no point in sitting in the car park to watch the view because there was no view to be seen, so we started up the engine and meandered down the west coast of the island.  We stopped at Porth Dafarch and wondered at the waves.  The Best Beloved bravely stepped out of the car to bring you this photograph -



Our next stop was Cable Bay, one of my favourite places in the whole world.  The last time we were here, in July, we lay on the beach in glorious sunshine anointed with suncream, but not today; today the weather was so fierce that we didn't dare raise a camera lens.  By now I was desperate for a cup of tea and so our meanderings led us to the charming Riverside Café at Malltreath where we found a warm welcome and a delicious cream tea.


Generously refreshed, we drove to the lovely little house, unpacked, lit the fire, opened a bottle of wine and settled in.

The following morning, fortified by a good breakfast, we went back to Cable Bay.  The storm had passed but the sea was still roaring.  Having pootled along the beach, head down, looking closely at the piles of kelp and seaweed washed up by the storm, poking through them to find mermaid's purses and whelk egg cases as well as the decomposing leatherback turtle, I sat on the sand in the sunshine and watched the fearless surfers while the Best Beloved walked up onto the headland to take these photographs -








Having thoroughly topped up my vitamin D levels, we got back in the car and drove to Lleiniog, somewhere we hadn't been before.  We parked the car and walked along the track beside the stream, turned through a gate and walked up through a wood.  I love being in the woods in the autumn when the canopy has thinned so the sunlight and the air can swish through.  Up, up, up we went until we reached the ruins of Castell Aberlleiniog.  Built as a motte and bailey castle in the eleventh century and then rebuilt in stone a few hundred years later, possibly in the seventeenth century, the castle is small and there's not much to see,  but it felt good to be up there and we sat on the ramparts for a while.  As many of the leaves had dropped from the trees, we could see through them and across the Menai Strait to the mainland, where a twin castle originally stood.





When we got back to the little house, we had bread and butter and lobster for dinner, washed down with a nice glass of wine.  We were living the high life!

  Sorry this photo isn't very sharp but it was taken on my 'phone in very low light - firelight, candlelight and fairylight.

The next day, we drove back to South Stack to visit another place which was new to us as the Best Beloved had spotted a sign which read "Stone Huts" and was keen to investigate.  As we drove up the Holyhead Mountain, we were surrounded by mist and so the Best Beloved chose some suitable music: Misty Mountain Hop by Led Zeppelin.  He couldn't help himself and was chuffed to bits with his artistic choice!  We parked the car, climbed over the stone stile (him) or opened the wooden gate (me) and set off up the track and almost immediately found Cytiau'r Gwyddelod, the Holyhead Mountain Hut Group.  There are twenty stone structures visible here, some partly restored, and they are about 2,500 years old.  Some are domestic dwellings, family homes, some are animal shelters, some are grain stores.  It is a fascinating and very atmospheric place, especially on a misty day.  We talked about how we will bring our family here for a picnic when Tom Kitten is older, we will sit on the floor in a roundhouse and eat Iron Age food, but then we decided that Iron Age food might not be very nice so we will bring 21st century food as well!




 We were ready for a snack so we went to the good café, which was open this time, and were disappointed by a slice of Victoria sandwich which turned out to be very dry.  This is the point at which the holiday started to go wrong.  We bought a bag of logs for the fire but when we opened it at the lovely little house, the wood was damp so we couldn't use it.  That evening, the owner of the house called round to let us know that the water supply had gone off and she was trying to find out why.  She later sent me a text to say that the water company had turned it off to do some planned maintenance work and it would be back on again during the early hours of the morning.  When we woke up, the water was on but it was straw-coloured so I sent the owner a text asking her if it was safe to use.  Her reply was that I should let it run for a bit, boil it or go to the village shop and buy some bottled water.  I'm not stupid!!  I knew that, I wanted to know if she had any further information from the water company!!  Clean water is an essential requirement of any holiday, I think, and I wasn't prepared to take a chance so we went to the village shop where the only water we could buy was an expensive French brand.  Harrumph.

However, the worst experience of all was dinner on our last evening.  We don't eat out very often so I like it to be special.  We went to The Oystercatcher, a fabulous building in a beautiful location, but the food was disappointing and when the staff asked if everything was all right with our meal, as they do, and I explained why it wasn't, they just weren't bothered.  We spent £56 on two courses and left as soon as we could, the last highlight of our holiday well and truly dimmed.  

For many years now I have worked for charities and churches and I have been surrounded by kind, caring people.  It's a long time since I was involved in the cut and thrust of capitalism and this holiday brought home to me the fact that I have been living in a lovely, protective bubble which has perhaps left me too thin-skinned to cope with real life.  I don't begrudge anybody the opportunity to make a living but as my money is so hard-won, I do resent people who are not interested in giving me good service in return for it and during this holiday I felt that everyone was just trying to rip me off and that upset me very much.  I had looked forward to this holiday for soooo long and so inevitably, my disappointment was huge.  On our last day on the island, the sun was shining and we had planned to spend the rest of the day on the beaches after checking out of the lovely little house, but I really couldn't bear to spend another hour in a place which now felt so hostile and grasping so we drove straight home instead, where we discovered that our cats hadn't been fed for two days.  I could have wept.  I did.

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x



Tuesday, 31 October 2017

On Halloween

Hello, thank you for popping in, and thank you especially to those of you who left comments on my last post.  It seems to have generated a fair bit of conversation, both here and in the "outside" world. 
 
Today is 31st October, Halloween, a day which I have come to loathe. When I was a young child in England in the early 1970s it was the day on which we read stories and poems about witches and magic in school and drew pictures of said witches on their broomsticks with obligatory pointy hats and black cats.  By and large, that was it.  We knew that the day was a bit special but what we really looked forward to was Bonfire Night on 5th November.

Then when I was eight years old my family moved to Scotland and on 31st October, after we had eaten our tea, there was a knock on the front door.  When my mother opened the door, she found a group of my friends on the doorstep, dressed up in costumes, who asked if I was coming out guising with them.  Guising?  I had never heard of it, but I liked dressing up and I liked going out with my friends, so it didn't take me long to raid the dressing up box and off I went, bag in hand.  We knocked on people's doors - only the houses of people we knew or people our parents knew - and each of us had to perform a party piece, sing a song or recite a poem, tell a joke or two or perform a magic trick, and in return, we were rewarded with a handful of peanuts in their shells and perhaps a few sweets or chocolates.  Those rewards were why we each carried a bag. 


Every home had a bowl piled high with peanuts and some had bowls of water with apples in which we "bobbed" for - traditionally this involved putting your face in the water and capturing an apple with your teeth, no hands allowed.  Yuk!  I can't stand apples so this was double torture for me.  The more modern, and kinder, way was to kneel on a chair, hold a fork between your teeth and let go of the fork so that it dropped into the bowl: if it stabbed an apple, you won it.  Once everyone had performed and had a go at bobbing for an apple, we moved on as a group to the next house.  It was a benign affair with very small children going out with their elder siblings, I can't remember any parents coming with us, and costumes were simply fancy dress of any kind, not limited to the scary.  In fact, I can't remember anyone ever wearing a scary costume in the five years or so that I went out guising - actually, some people did dress up as ghosts, but they were friendly, sheet-over-your-head type ghosts, not really scary ones.
 
 
Of course, there were lanterns.  When I was a Girl Guide, there was always a competition for the best lantern.  However, there were no pumpkins for our lanterns were made out of swedes and we lit candles inside them, threaded string through the lids and carried them with us.  Even now, the smell of singed raw swede transports me back to the 1970s.  Although I must say that one year, I won second prize with a lantern made from a hollowed-out melon!  Perhaps my mother couldn't get hold of enough swedes that year (I have three sisters). 

 
I don't find any of this difficult.  What I know now, and didn't know then, is the relationship between all this and the Christian church: that this is  AllHallowtide.  Ist November is All Saints' Day, Hallowmas, a holy day to honour all the saints and martyrs and 2nd November is All Souls' Day, a day to remember all faithful Christians who have died, especially family and friends.  Around the world, many people will visit the graves of their lost loved ones and lay flowers for them.  So today, All Hallows' Eve, Hallowe'en, is a day to prepare to remember, a night when the veil between this life and the next is thin, a day when our superstitious ancestors might wear masks or disguises so that the wandering souls wouldn't recognise them.  During the medieval period in England, children and poor adults would visit houses during this period and offer to say and sing prayers for the souls of the householders and their friends in return for alms, specially baked cakes, apples or money.  This is the root of my 1970s guising. 

If Halloween were still remembered in this way, with an understanding of our folklore and heritage, I really wouldn't mind, but it isn't and I don't like what it has become.  Shall I start with Trick or Treat?  Earning one's reward by singing for one's supper, literally or metaphorically, has been replaced with obtaining it by menaces.  Children expect to be given sweets or money in return for absolutely nothing and if you don't give, you may be given a mouthful of abuse or have eggs thrown at your house or car.  As for the costumes, it's all about gore, violence and scaring the bejesus out of people.  What happened to magic and a bit of spookiness?  Little girls and boys go out dressed as bloody vampires and zombies  with their faces painted accordingly.  Nobody seems to raid the dressing up box any more, but supermarkets and shops make a fortune out of selling "costumes" which will only be worn once because the children will have grown out of them by next year - Tom Kitten has two Halloween costumes and he is three weeks old!! 

The season of Hallowtide has been replaced by the season of Halloween, with houses being decorated accordingly with tonnes of synthetic tat which will probably end up in landfill, and it's not just houses: I went for a walk in the woods on Wenlock Edge yesterday and there were fake cobwebs pinned up everywhere.  Several people have mentioned to me that they have never known the "season" begin so early before, perhaps because the actual day has fallen outside the half term holiday around here. 

As for the lanterns, I wonder if anyone in Scotland still scoops out and carves a swede or if, like the English, they have gone mad for the pumpkin?  America, I get it, I really do, pumpkins are native in your part of the world and let's face it, they are an awful lot easier to carve than swedes, and if I were American I would definitely go for the pumpkin option, but why have the British let go of their tradition so easily?  Vast fields are given over to the growing of pumpkins which will plummet in price if they are still on the shop shelves tomorrow.  Worst of all, as far as I am concerned, is the fact that apparently, most people scoop out the flesh of their pumpkin AND THROW IT IN THE BIN!  I was shocked when I discovered that, quite recently, because in my naivety I had assumed that nobody would waste good food and that pots of pumpkin soup were simmering away merrily on the hobs of the nation. 

And so I have come to loathe this day on which the British have given up their traditions and allowed nastiness, commerce and greed to hold sway. 

Are you wondering about the photographs?  When I was at primary school there was a television training college nearby and when I was eleven years old, the college approached my school and asked for four children to go there for a day to appear in a film about Scottish Halloween celebrations with an actress called Dorothy Dean.  I was one of the four children who were chosen and my friend Karen and I dressed up as Laurel and Hardy, our party piece being The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine.  We were treated like film stars that day and each received a handsome payment of £5 in House of Fraser vouchers, which I spent on a knitted waistcoat and a pair of gloves.  A short time later, these photographs were delivered to the school, a set for each of us.  I like to think that in some far-flung corner of the world, I was a famous film star for five minutes!

So I cannot wish you "Happy Halloween" as Facebook suggests I do.  Instead, I have gathered together some photographs of those I have loved and lost and they can stay on the mantelpiece for the season of Hallowtide.  I shall light some candles for them tonight and remember their stories.  No pumpkins, no plastic spiders and definitely no fake cobwebs. 

Rant over.

See you soon.
 
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x
 
 
Altogether now, "On a mountain in Virginia..."




 

Friday, 27 October 2017

A Tale of Two Prams

Hello, thank you for dropping in, it's good to see you here.  We are still floating on a happy baby cloud here.  Tom Kitten arrived rather late and, in the end, rather dramatically, but mother and baby are both doing well.  Postnatal care has changed a lot since she was born in 1989: mums and babies stayed in the hospital for eight days for a first baby, four days for subsequent babies and at least ten days for babies born by Caesarean section.  I wasn't allowed to bring her home until feeding was established and I had shown the midwives that I could bath her on my own.  After returning home, the midwife made daily visits until the baby was ten days old, at which point we were discharged into the care of the health visitor.  The Teacher's experience was quite different: after two days in the hospital under consultant care she and Tom Kitten moved to the midwife-led unit for one night before coming home.  The midwife visited on days four, six and eleven.  The health visitor came on day fourteen and, having given The Teacher a verbal list of things she must and must not do, will visit again in four weeks' time.  Thank goodness for grandmothers who can show nervous parents how to bath a baby, dress a baby, wind a baby, launder baby clothes and generally help to build up their confidence.  We are all losing track of time and dates but Tom Kitten is absolutely adorable and we are all smitten.
When I was expecting The Teacher my parents-in-law said that they would like to buy a pram for us.  We went to the County Sleep Shop in Shrewsbury and, after much deliberation, chose a Silver Cross pram which, with its metal shopping tray, cost £158.  Of course, we didn't bring it home with us because that was thought to bring bad luck, to have a pram in the house before a baby was born; no, the shop owner suggested that he should keep it in his store room until we rang him to let him know that the baby had arrived, so that's exactly what we did.  It wasn't a coach built pram, the carry cot detached from the frame so that we could fit it into the boot of the car, but it had large wheels and springs and it was wonderful to push.  The springs meant that I could bounce it up and down the eight steps to my front door with ease and without disturbing either The Teacher or the shopping which was on the tray underneath the carry cot. 
Early this summer, we returned to the County Sleep Shop with The Teacher and bought a pram, this time from the daughter-in-law of the man who owned the shop the first time we visited.  She told me that her mother had bought a pushchair there from him in 1958. The Teacher also chose Silver Cross, but this contraption is so much more than a pram: it's a complete travel system.  There is a frame into which fits a carry cot, a car seat or a pushchair seat, which can be angled anywhere between upright and recline and face backwards or forwards.  There is a change bag for baby paraphernalia, a parasol for sunny days and there are various covers for wintry days.  It doesn't sing, dance or make the tea but it is definitely a multipurpose vehicle.  The wheels are small, but the woman in the shop assured us that they think these are "the best for our county".  There are no springs to cushion Tom Kitten's ride.  No springs and small wheels, and yet Silver Cross describe this affair as having "a multi terrain off road chassis" and being "robust and built for adventure".  Pish pshaw!  I think that would be a rather uncomfortable adventure.  Would you like to know how much this marvellous contraption cost?  £795, and that was a special offer as apparently the list price is £1,000+.  When I told her that we paid £158 in 1989, the woman in the shop said, in all seriousness, "The cost of living has rocketed since then."  I looked her in the eye and said, deadpan, "The cost of prams has rocketed since then."  


See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

On 16th October

Hello, thank you for calling in, and many thanks for your congratulations on my new grandmotherly status.  When I was a child, a grandmother had grey hair and false teeth and wore an apron all day, which is not a route I am ready to go down just yet, but my cousin has assured me that she has heard that these days, grandmothers can be superglamorous.  I have aspirations.

I hope to tell you more about our adorable new bundle later this week, but today I think I need to talk about 16th October - well, two 16ths October, to be precise.

On Friday 16th October 1987 I woke up full of excitement.  I went to the bathroom and when I came back to my room in the rented flat I shared with two friends, I turned on my second-hand, black and white portable television to listen to BBC Breakfast Time as I pottered around the room getting myself ready for the day ahead and packing up my things, ALL of my things because today I would be moving into my very own house!  Completion was due to take place at midday and then I would be A Homeowner. 
 

This is an extract from the surveyor's report.  Mine is the middle house.
 
As I looked at the television I realised that something was wrong: Nicholas Witchell was on his own in a temporary studio.  I listened more closely and discovered that storm-force winds during the night had caused massive disruption and destruction across the country.  I went to the window and, looking out, saw that everything was exactly as it had been the previous day.  I felt a bit confused.  Shortly afterwards, the Best Beloved rang me from his home in South Buckinghamshire.  He had booked the day off work and planned to drive up to Shropshire and help me to move house.  He told me of the terrible winds during the night.  In the morning, he had gone into the bathroom and thought, "Where's the window?"  He looked out of the hole where it had been and spotted it on the other side of the garden, with lots of other debris which had been picked up and dropped there by the wind.  Apparently, here in the west midlands we had been in the eye of the storm, winds had raged all around us but the air above us had been completely still and we had slept on in blissful ignorance as the Great Storm of 1987 passed by.

The Best Beloved's journey was long and tortuous as many roads were blocked by fallen trees but after several hours, he arrived and we collected the van we had hired.  Our first task was to collect the bed which I had bought during the week, so we drove to the shop only to be told that the bed wasn't there but at the factory on the industrial estate and that we should be quick because the factory closed early on Fridays!  The Best Beloved put his foot down but we were too late and as the factory was closed over the weekend, we had to sleep on the floor for three nights until it reopened on the Monday - fortunately, the house was carpeted!
 

Throughout the process of buying my house I recorded every important detail in a journal.  This extract shows the details of the van hire.
 
We had an interesting visitor that first evening in my new house: a television licence inspector.  He said that there was no record of a television licence at my address and I replied that I had only moved in that afternoon and hadn't had time to transfer the licence from my previous address.  He didn't believe me so I invited him in and showed him the boxes everywhere and the blankets which I had hung at the window as temporary curtains.  He still appeared to be very sceptical and the following week, I received an odd letter purporting to be from the General Post Office, which administered the licences then, informing me of the penalties which I would face if I didn't buy a television licence immediately.  The letter was typed on very thin paper, not headed paper, and I still don't believe that it was genuine.  All very odd.  Perhaps he was casing the joint with a view to burglary?  My second-hand, black and white portable television, cardboard boxes and blankets for curtains obviously weren't sufficiently enticing.
 
So let's move forward thirty years to 16th October 2017.  Flashman returned to work after paternity leave and so I drove over to The Teacher's house early in the morning to help her with Tom Kitten (he's not called Tom and he's not a kitten but his mother and I have decided that it's a good blog name for him, so that's how he will be known here).  We knew that the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia were on their way to Ireland and Wales but the Best Beloved, who is something of a weather nerd, had assured me that we wouldn't be affected here.  The sky looked very strange as I drove westwards, thick and uniformly grey but not misty.  The temperature was unseasonably warm, more than twenty degrees Celsius and apparently, it was the hottest October day since UK records began (the average temperature here at this time of year is  fourteen degrees Celsius).  Later that morning, the solid grey sky was blushed with pink and the shafts of sunlight which fell across the floor were rose-coloured.  Outside those shafts, the light was gloomy and dim and The Teacher commented that she's not used to having to put the lights on in the morning.  The atmosphere felt most peculiar, as if it were full of an invisible something, and the orange sun burned high in the sky.  The Mathematician, who had flown in from Guernsey that morning, told me that the skies were the same in Guernsey, in Birmingham and in Loughborough.  I have read several different explanations of the cause of this phenomenon but according to the Met Office, Ophelia dragged sand and dust from the Sahara Desert and ash and debris from the forest fires in Portugal up into the atmosphere where the particles scattered the blue and green light in the spectrum, leaving the red and yellow to dominate.  In the afternoon, the winds whipped up, we watched twigs and branches being wrenched from trees and thrown around the garden and we felt very glad to be safe indoors. 

In the evening, I went to a poetry evening and listened to three poets tell stories and poems, their voices rising to be heard above the howling wind outside (and the humming bar fridge inside!).  Fifty people had booked tickets but less than half that number attended and those of us who had made it were lauded for our efforts in braving the weather.  It was a memorable evening.  It was a memorable day.
 
 
 I hope you and yours have all survived the winds.  See you soon.
 
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x
 



Saturday, 14 October 2017

What A Wonderful World

Hello, thank you for popping in.  I'm just popping in as well, to apologise for my absence here and assure you that I shall be back soon.  A wonderful thing has happened and we are all somewhat distracted. 
 
 
See you soon.
 
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Thursday, 21 September 2017

On Freshers' Week

Hello, thank you for calling in, I'm delighted to see you here.  I am counting my blessings and I hope you are all safe, wherever you are.  I am certainly not going to gripe about the weather when there are hurricanes and earthquakes on the other side of the Atlantic.
 
Thirty-four years ago this month I packed up my suitcase and went off to college in Essex, beginning an adventure which would last for three years.  The Hall of Residence was over-subscribed but all first year students who wanted it were guaranteed accommodation, so I was allocated a place in a shared house which was earmarked for demolition to make way for a new road.  There were eight of us altogether, all girls, and my bed was in the room at the front of the house which would have originally been the lounge.  I had to share this room with another girl who, unfortunately for me, had never had to share a bedroom before and frankly, there was a good deal of tension because she had absolutely no idea of the give and take necessary to make it work.  She was selfish.  There, I have called a spade a spade.  All of the rooms in the house were full of girls except the kitchen and the bathroom - oh yes, there was only one bathroom between eight of us, no shower, and the loo was in the bathroom so if you needed a wee and someone was in the bath you just had to cross your legs and hang on.  There was a table and chairs in the kitchen and another in the large hall, but we had no sitting room.  We had no 'phone, no television, no washing machine, obviously we had no computers and none of us had a car, so how on earth did we cope??  Fabulously well.
 
I think that this year's crop of Freshers would be absolutely horrified.  A condemned house?  Sharing a room?  No ensuite shower room?  Trips to the laundrette?  No telecoms?  No cars?  How on earth did we survive??
 
There was another difference, too: Freshers' Week was the first week of term.  We had to contend with a full programme of lectures and tutorials as well as finding our way around, both the college and the town, making new friendships and a full programme of social activities.  We got up at 8am every day and went to bed at 3am every night and the excitement, the nerves and the adrenaline got us through.  The evening activities took place in the Student Union bar and I have been trying to remember what I would have been drinking - certainly not spirits, firstly because they were too expensive and secondly, because they were too middle-aged!  I don't think I was drinking beer then so if it was alcohol it was probably cider, or possibly a glass of the ghastly wine which was served in pubs then.  I don't remember any of the girls getting drunk to the point of incapacitation, although I do remember being scared by the behaviour of some of the boys who drank eight or nine pints of beer and couldn't control themselves.  The point of our evenings was, I think, to meet each other, to have fun together and to celebrate our freedom. 
 
 
Me in October 1983 in Cedar Avenue, Chelmsford, writing a letter!
 
In many British universities Freshers' Week now lasts for a fortnight.  The teaching doesn't begin until the second week, or possibly the third, so for at least a week, the activities are purely social and appear to revolve around alcohol - The Mathematician told me that during her Freshers' Week, three years ago, more than £1,000-worth of alcohol was laid out in her Hall every evening for a week.  I was shocked.  She pointed out to me that this was for more than one hundred students so it worked out at less than £10 per student and I pointed out to her that you can buy a bottle of gin for less than £10 in a supermarket.  I certainly wouldn't drink a whole bottle of gin every evening for a week or two.
 
I am trying to work out why this bothers me so much.  Well, for a start, the extra week or two at the beginning of term means that an extra week or two's rent has to be paid, and you have to pay extra for the Freshers' Week activities.  What bothers me more than that is the total reliance on alcohol, the assumption that you can't make new friends or have a good time without it.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a drink as much as anyone does, certainly as much as any fifty-two year old woman with a penchant for Sauvignon Blanc or a gin and tonic does, but I can meet new people without being drunk, even though I am naturally quite shy.  I suppose the point of the alcohol is to remove the initial reserve which may hold people back and prevent them mixing with each other, but I think it may be more useful in the long run for students to learn how to do that while they are sober.  After all, being a student is all about learning, isn't it?  It has also been reported this year that at some universities, students are being issued with wristbands which bear the name and address of their hall so that if they get very drunk while they are out and can't remember where they live, a friendly soul/ taxi driver / police officer can ensure they get safely home.  Really??  Shouldn't they be learning some personal safety strategies, for example, that you don't get so drunk that you can't get yourself home safely, and that when you go out, you stay with your friends so that you can look after each other?  Two years ago a young man went out clubbing in Shrewsbury and got so drunk that he rang his mother in the early hours of the morning to tell her that he didn't know where he was and ask her to help him.  She drove to Shrewsbury and spent a couple of hours driving around, looking for him, but couldn't find him.  A search was mounted and a few weeks later, his body was found in the River Severn.  Every time this happens, and it happened again a couple of weeks ago, there are calls for the river to be fenced off, but I don't hear any calls for people not to drink so much that they place themselves in danger. 
 
When I was a Fresher, we were all issued with a friendly little booklet, produced by the Students' Union, which gave us advice about all of this, and other personal safety tips... including what to do if you were arrested by the Police!
 
See you soon.
 
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x