Saturday 30 December 2017

On the Sixth Day of Christmas

Happy Christmas!  Are you still celebrating, or is it all over for you?  We begin our decorating and celebrating later than most people and I like to keep going for the whole twelve days.
Tradition is important to us at Christmas, the same rituals being performed year after year, reminding us of Christmases past and the shared memories cementing us together but as time moves on some things change and some rituals are discarded because they simply don't fit any more.  So, on the First Day of Christmas The Mathematician bounded into our bedroom to sit on our bed and open the small gifts which Father Christmas had left for her while she was sleeping, even though she is twenty-one years old.  There was the familiar clementine, the chocolate money, the small box of her favourite chocolates and the new treats which befit her age.  Later, she drove us to her sister's house where, in a break from tradition, we opened our gifts and shared the feast, set on a table laid with my great grandmother's tablecloth.  Everyone had a hand in preparing this feast but my only contribution was making stock with a chicken carcass the previous day which the Best Beloved then used to make the gravy which we took with us.  I got off pretty lightly and I am hugely grateful for a day in which I neither cooked nor washed up. 

On the Second Day of Christmas The Teacher, Tom Kitten and Flashman went to his parents' house and the Best Beloved, The Mathematician and I went to Blists Hill Victorian Town for a grown-up brunch in the Forest Glen Refreshment Pavilion.  We were greeted with fizz and canapés before eating a hot breakfast, then we indulged in croissants and bagels before finishing with chocolate tiffin and hot chocolate.  There were Christmas crackers, white linen tablecloths and a happy atmosphere and afterwards, beneath pale sunshine, we wandered around the museum for a while.  It was a new way for us to spend Boxing Day and we all enjoyed it.

The picture in the middle of this photo shows the Forest Glen in its original setting at the foot of The Wrekin.  The building was moved to Blists Hill in the early 1990s. 

I love these "paper" chains - they are made of felt and stitched together.


On the Third Day of Christmas we went to Cardiff to join the rest of my family, as we have done on this day for the last few years - my parents, my sisters, their partners and my niece and nephews.  There were twenty-one of us.  We always go to the theatre together in the afternoon on this day but this year, there was something important for us to do together first: we said our goodbyes to my grandparents.  It is several years since they died but we have been waiting for the right time and the right occasion, and this was it.  My father had bought two large planters for the garden and into each he tipped some compost, and then we added my grandparents' ashes.  One by one we came forward, first my parents, then me, my sisters and our children, and each of us shared a memory while using a trowel to add some of the ashes to the planters.  Some of the memories were funny, all were fond; when the youngest boy, born two years after my grandmother died, said, "But I didn't know Nanny," my father gently replied, "Then just come and say goodbye," and he did.  When all were done, we charged our glasses and raised a toast.  We would have like to sing but our hearts wouldn't let our voices rise.  It was beautiful, very moving and just right and although it may seem strange to have left it for years, those years meant that we were no longer overwhelmed by grief and could remember Nanny and Gramps as they were, rather than focus on our own loss. 
The theatre?  Miss Saigon and it was good, the helicopter was amazing, but I wish the singers' diction had been better so that I could have made out all the words. 

On the Fourth Day of Christmas we left Cardiff and my family and slowly drove home through heavy traffic.  We just made it to Birmingham Airport in time for The Mathematician to catch her flight to Paris, where she is spending the New Year.  She's so grown up!
On the Fifth Day of Christmas the Best Beloved and I gave ourselves a special gift: a day for just ourselves.  I really do love being with my family, especially at this time of year, and I loved spending lots of time with my friends during the week before Christmas, but I was ready for a quiet day.  I drank buckets of tea, ate some chocolate, did quite a lot of crochet, watched a film and didn't leave the house.  I enjoyed the lights on the Christmas tree and the candles on the mantelpiece.  I didn't speak to anyone except the Best Beloved and I thought about my grandparents a lot.  It was a refreshing, restorative day. 
I know that Christmas is a difficult time for some people and if you are one of those people, you are probably feeling relieved that it's over.  I've been there and I really do understand that.  However, for me this year, it's not over yet and I am cherishing these days of small treats when the pressures and distractions of day-to-day life are put aside.  Tonight we'll open a bottle of wine, light up the mantelpiece and the Christmas tree and count our blessings.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Thursday 21 December 2017

Scenes from the Perfect Christmas Film

Hello, thank you for popping in, especially as I expect you are very busy with just a few days to go before Christmas.  It's lovely to see you here.

Imagine, if you will, that it's a week before Christmas and one dark, cold, cloudless evening a group of close friends set off to drive out into the countryside, laughing and chatting all the way.  As they drive further away from the towns and villages, leaving the lights behind, the sky becomes darker and when they reach their destination, they step out of the cars into the crisp night and see all the stars in the sky shining gloriously above them, let by bold Orion.  They point it out to each other in awe.  Behind the trees, they make out the ruins of an ancient castle and next to it, a church, its stained glass windows lit up like boiled sweets by the lights within.

Well wrapped up in coats and scarves and still chatting excitedly, the friends walk carefully up the dark path, swinging torches before them with gloved hands to light the way for their booted feet.  When they arrive at the church door, they are greeted warmly with cups of hot mulled wine and invited to find seats.  The stones of the building, almost a thousand years old, are bedecked with Christmas glitter and greenery and as they fill two pews, a smiling woman in a red coat comes to them bearing a tray of hot mince pies.  The church fills up as more and more people arrive and then the brass band, who are seated in the chancel, strike up "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful".  The friends sing lustily, along with everyone else in the packed church, whether faithful or not, and a carol service unfolds with familiar bible readings, unfamiliar poems, children wearing golden crowns to match the instruments in the band, candy canes for everyone and a sermon which places the story of a humble young couple seeking safety and shelter firmly in the reality of the present.
I haven't imagined this, although it was all so perfect that, afterwards, I wondered if I had done.  This was the carol service I went to earlier this week at St Bartholomew's Church in Moreton Corbet and I was one of those close friends.  I went to the same service last year with The Mathematician and raved about it so much that my friends wanted to come with me this time (and The Mathematician is not yet home from university).  We have had a rough year and this service was exactly what we needed to do together - honestly, if you wanted a blueprint for the perfect carol service, I think this would be it, although you would also have to arrange the weather and the stars, and perhaps a ruined castle.

Many people love a carol service, whether or not they believe in the Nativity story at its centre.  Those carols which we have heard every year since we were children, finding the words come to our lips easily, can conjure up happy memories of Christmases past, the feelings of excitement we had when we were children, looking forward to all the gifts Father Christmas would bring us, looking forward to time off school and, later, work, looking forward to seeing the family members we only saw at holiday time, looking forward to parties, pantomimes and gluttonous amounts of guilt-free chocolate.  Happy memories of Christmases past surface and we sing our hearts out in an effort to sing that happiness into the present.  

Thank you, St Bartholomew's, for giving my friends and me the perfect carol service.

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

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'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..."