Monday 24 December 2018

A Christmas Eve Story

Once upon a time in England there was an unpleasant vicar who didn't really like his congregation and spent as little time with them as possible.  He particularly avoided the families with children who attended his church, leaving all family activities to be organised and led by a small team of lay church members.  Working in a hostile environment brought this team of people close together as they supported and cared about each other, and this support and care was reflected in the work they did for the church so that families wanted to be with them and to share in the activities they organised - Messy Church, film nights, holiday breakfasts, playing in the snow.  All of these thrived with generosity at their heart while attendance at the church's traditional services dwindled. 

One year the unpleasant vicar decided that he didn't want to be involved with the church's usual Crib Service on Christmas Eve so in the autumn he asked the Team Leader if she would organise and lead it instead.  She agreed on the basis that it could be a service based around the values of Messy Church: it must be Christ-centred (that bit would be easy), for people of all ages and include creativity, celebration and hospitality.  The unpleasant vicar agreed and so the Team Leader contacted the rest of the team and invited them to be involved.  Everybody agreed.  She and her Right Hand Woman had a meeting (in a cafĂ©, with Earl Grey tea and cake, so it was a very productive meeting) and drew up a plan.  They both felt VERY excited about it.  They went away from the meeting and sent e-mails and made 'phone calls.  They began to publicise the Crib Service and sent out invitations to all the families who attended the activities they usually held at the church.  A young child began to practise reading a passage from the bible, as did a woman who hadn't felt able to come to church for a long time, delicious baking smells wafted across the parish from the Chief Baker's kitchen and straw bales were sourced.  

The excitement grew.  There was a definite amount of chatter about the forthcoming service.  On the Sunday before Christmas, during the afternoon, three bales of straw were installed in the church's chancel, ready for a weary Mary and Joseph.  (Have you ever moved bales of straw?  What a trail of mess was left!  The vacuum cleaner had to be whipped out straight away.)  

On 21st December, three days before Christmas Eve, one of the church wardens telephoned the Team Leader during the evening and told her that the wardens had met together and decided that they did not want her to lead the Crib Service but instead, the unpleasant vicar was going to prepare and lead an alternative Crib Service.  As the meeting had taken place at the vicarage, the Team Leader assumed that the decision had actually been made by the unpleasant vicar and that the wardens were simply rubber-stamping it.  The Team Leader felt devastated and she immediately rang her Right Hand Woman, sobbing down the 'phone as she explained what had happened.  The Right Hand Woman had difficulty understanding her and was initially confused but once she had established what had happened, she sobbed, too.  She felt as if she had been given a wonderful gift which had then been spitefully snatched away from her.  Please remember that invitations had been sent out, people had been practising their readings, baking had been done and three bales of straw were already sitting in the church in preparation...and now the service was not going to happen.

What to do?  Was there, in fact, anything to do?  The following day, 22nd December, two days before Christmas Eve, the Right Hand Woman awoke after very little sleep, remembered what had happened and burst into tears again.  She thought about holding the service in her garden but the space wasn't really suitable and the access was difficult.  The Team Leader thought about all the people she would have to contact to let them know what to do.  But what were they to do?  She talked to her Wise Friend about it and an amazing thing happened: the Wise Friend suggested that the service go ahead as planned IN HER GARDEN where there was a breeze house which would make the perfect stable.  Could they do it?  Yes, they could.  The Team Leader and the Right Hand Woman spent the day contacting the families they had invited and removing the bales of straw from the church (and vacuuming the carpet afterwards).  The Wise Friend asked her neighbour, an organist, if he would bring his portable keyboard into her conservatory and play for the relocated Crib Service, and he agreed.  She went out and bought metres and metres of fairy lights, invited her neighbours to the service and found lots of chairs.

On Christmas Eve the fairy lights were strung up around the garden, the straw bales were installed and an old crib became a manger.  It looked absolutely enchanting when night fell.  The Right Hand Woman, wearing tinsel on her head and carrying a lantern, assumed the role of innkeeper and stood outside the house to direct people where to park and welcome them, apologising that there was no room inside the inn but ushering them into the back garden where they gasped at the fairy lit enchantment as the Chief Baker offered them cakes and other treats.  Forty-two people came that night, well wrapped up against the cold, the youngest aged nine months and the oldest more than seventy;  there was even a little dog.  Some of them were neighbours who wouldn't have come to a service in a church.  When the Team Leader asked who would like to be Mary, a seven year-old boy shouted, "Me!" and ran forward to sit on the straw.  Then a five year-old girl called out, "Can I be Joseph?" and of course she could.  Then, as the familiar story unfolded, a shepherd was needed and a small boy raced into the "stable", then an angel, and the Right Hand Woman stepped forward because she thought that the children needed to be supervised, and after all, she was wearing tinsel on her head so she had the right costume, but really because she had always wanted to be in a nativity play.  Encouraged by this, other adults and children then volunteered to be shepherds and angels.  Sitting on straw can be rather uncomfortable and "Mary" called out, "The straw is prickling my bum!" and everybody laughed.  Once the story had been told and the company was assembled in the stable, the organist played Away In A Manger and everybody sang because everybody knew all the words off by heart.  By heart.  There was an awful lot of heart in that garden that night.  A messy group of people, of all ages and in varying states of health, and a little dog called Bobby, surmounted the rubbish that was thrown at them obstacles which were put in their way and came together in a spirit of love and hope and made the best nativity service they had ever been to.  They are still talking about it and recently, one of them said that it's the best nativity service anyone has ever been to.

So I wish you all a Christmas filled with love and hope.  I know that it's a very difficult time for some people so I remind you that it will be over quite soon and if there can't be love, there can be hope.

See you on the other side.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x


Saturday 22 December 2018

Finding My Christmas Spirit

Hello, thank you for popping in.  It feels as if it has been raining for days here and although yesterday was the first day of winter, it's not cold.  It looks as if we are in for another mild, wet Christmas.  Bah, humbug!

Christmas has become a difficult time of year for me over the last few years and my Christmas Spirit has been elusive this time.  In an effort to find it, I have been drinking my tea from a festive mug every morning this month, but that didn't help.  I have put the Christmas cards we have received up on the bookshelves in the front room so that their jolly images greet me whenever I enter the room, but that didn't help, either.  The Best Beloved bought some mince pies for me (he doesn't eat them) and got the little mince pie plates out of the dresser, but nor did that help.  For the first time I can ever remember, I haven't sung a single Christmas carol and I haven't been to church since Advent Sunday.

A couple of weeks ago, I returned home and discovered a book on my doormat, posted there by a friend who described it as "delightful".  It is The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder, a children's book in twenty-four short chapters, designed to be read one chapter each day in December leading up to Christmas.  If I tell you that the characters include angels, a governor of Syria, three wise men, some shepherds and a lamb I reckon you will be able to guess what the book is about, but I haven't spoiled the story for you as the characters travel  from Norway across Europe and backwards through time from the twentieth century so there is more to be read.  I am indeed finding it delightful.  As I have read it, I have felt a little bit of Christmas Spirit seeping in.  

Last weekend I found myself perusing the bookcase in the room which used to be my children's  and my eyes alighted on The Grey Family by Noel Streatfield.  A fond memory stirred.  This book was written for children in the 1950s and is a typically old-fashioned, English story about a poor family whose "ship comes in" so that by the end of the story, they are not as poor as they were.  My bookish aunt sent this copy to The Teacher just after her father began working after three years of full-time study and the timing was perfect.  I have never forgotten this opening paragraph of the book's final chapter, which is the reason why I smiled. - 

"Christmas is always a glorious day, but that Christmas was the nicest the Greys could remember.  It was as if, without knowing it, the family had been wearing too tight a coat, which had suddenly burst open and allowed them to feel how pleasant it was not to be buttoned up in too tight a coat.  The reason why they felt like that was that they were just a little bit richer."

I took the book down from the shelf, settled down with a mug of tea and read it in a couple of hours.  A little bit of Christmas Spirit seeped in.

The third book I have been reading this month is A Christmas Carol and Other Stories by Charles Dickens.  Like most people of my age, I have read A Christmas Carol before, several times, but this volume, which I bought a few years ago in a charity shop for the grand price of 50p, also contains The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth, which I hadn't read.  After the phenomenal success of A Christmas Carol in 1843, Dickens published a similarly themed novella each December for the next four years and these are the first two of those.  I am saving A Christmas Carol for Christmas Eve but I have read the other two stories, and as I did so, a little bit of Christmas Spirit seeped in.  I should have worked it out sooner, really, that in this year when I have rediscovered my reading mojo, my Christmas Spirit would be unlocked by books.

Yesterday was the day of the winter solstice and, as has become our tradition, we brought in and decorated a Christmas tree.  We decorated our festive mantelpiece and lit all the candles in the evening, acknowledging the lengthening of the days and the return of the light.  As I sat contemplating it all last night over a glass of mulled wine I realised that I have been rather selfish; I may not be interested in celebrating myself, but my family love this time of year - The Most Wonderful Time of the Year [ding, dong, ding, dong] - and that's why I do it, for them, because I love them.  As that light bulb went on, a great deal of Christmas Spirit flooded in and overwhelmed me. Yep, I'm ready to sparkle and shine.  Bring it on.   

See you on Christmas Eve.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Scattering Rainbows

Hello, thank you for popping in here, I'm very pleased to see you.  It's stupid o'clock in the morning and I can't sleep so I'm here.  I blame the new duvet: it's so bloomin' warm that I'm overheating - in December!

The other day I received the notification that Heather at Little Tin Bird had taken down her blog.  This made me feel sad because Heather was one of the bloggers who inspired me to learn to crochet, and her tutorials were crucial to my actually learning how to do it.  Last year I made a baby blanket using her rainbow scheme in Stylecraft Special DK colours of Lipstick, Spice, Saffron, Lime, Turquoise, Violet and Magenta, beginning with a chain of 101 and working ten rows of trebles in each colour.  It's very simple but I was ridiculously pleased with myself.  The Teacher was so taken with it that she asked me to make one for Tom Kitten, before we even knew that he was Tom Kitten, and it was the blanket which snuggled him up when he was a few minutes old.  Fourteen months on, it has worked very hard: he has been wrapped in it, slept beneath it, played on top of it and now it goes out with him in the car and the pushchair to keep him cosy.  It seems to charm all those who see it and The Teacher often passes on to me the compliments she receives from random strangers (usually older women!) when she is out and about with it.  Recently, somebody even asked her if I have an Instagram account which they could follow (I don't).  Get me!!

After Tom Kitten was born, The Teacher asked me to make another blanket for another friend of hers and this year I have made four more in the same size.  Although the body of each blanket is identical, I use different colours for the border, which is always the Spot On edging designed by Lucy at Attic 24, really so that when Tom Kitten is out with his friends, their blankets don't get mixed up.  One of his friends is a Bigger Girl, she's three years old, and when her mother asked The Teacher if I could give her "the recipe" for the blanket I instead asked if I could make one for her myself and she agreed - I had enough yarn left over in my stash and if I had known how to crochet when she was born I would have made one for her then.  So I made a bigger blanket for the Bigger Girl, starting with a chain of 122 and working twelve rows in each of the seven colours.  In return she made me a lovely card and her mother sent me a photo of the blanket being worn as a cape.  I was thrilled.  That one was rainbow blanket number eight.

One of Tom Kitten's friends, the owner of the first rainbow blanket, has a Big Sister who is seven years old.  At the end of last winter, she noticed that her brother has a blanket and asked why she didn't have one.  Her mother asked The Teacher if I take commissions (!) and The Teacher explained that I don't because it takes me so many hours to make things that it's not worth the money.  However, how could I allow a seven-year-old to remain blanketless?  That would be almost criminal, I think.  I checked my stash and told The Teacher that I would make a blanket but that it would take several months because I would do it between my other projects.  I said that it might not be finished before Christmas.

I decided that this blanket needed to be quite a bit bigger than the baby blankets because a seven-year-old is quite a bit bigger than a baby, and I wanted it to have some longevity as she grows, but I didn't want it to be single-bed sized because I wanted her to be able to carry it around herself, so I began with a chain of 129.  I was also a bit fed up of the original pattern and I couldn't really face making it in a bigger size, but I do love the way the colours work together, so I decided that blanket number nine would be something new for me: a ripple, a rainbow ripple.  Now, I should state at this point that I am not a big fan of the look of the ripple (I know, that may actually be crochet sacrilege) but I know that many other people love it, and I wanted to learn how to do it.  Now that it's finished, I may have been converted; I think I love it too.  

Here it is folded in half on The Teacher's spare bed.  I edged this one in Storm Blue, filling in the troughs of the ripple to make straight edges.  I think it is just about perfect.

So blanket number nine has been wrapped up and will be opened on Christmas Day.  I have scattered nine rainbows around Shropshire and Staffordshire and number ten is on order for next spring.  Perhaps I should change my name to Iris?

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Sunday 9 December 2018

Christmas Trends 2018

Hello, thank you for calling in.  Exactly twelve months ago Shropshire was hit by a "snow bomb", an unprecedented event which delivered 25cm of snow over three days and left us all feeling extremely festive.  The Best Beloved and I ventured out to Ironbridge on 9th December and he took some photographs, one of which is my new header.  I thought I'd go a bit seasonal.

Speaking of seasonal, I have read that this year's Christmas decorating trends include pink, llamas, pom poms and "handmade".  Now, it is decades since being on trend bothered me in the slightest and I like Christmas to be about traditions, so the facts that I don't live very well with pink and don't own any decorative llamas are not causing me any anxiety at all.  However, last year I bought a set of pom pom makers and making a festive garland was on my list of things to do this month - yes, I know that I don't need a fancy contraption and that I could have cut a couple of circles out of an old cereal box as we did when I was a child but the fancy contraption speeds up the process and makes it SO much fun.  I delved into my yarn stash and found not pink but dark red, cream and a muted green to give a sort of vintage feel which is much more to my liking.  Pom pom production happened very gently over several evenings and once I had thirty-four I threaded them together, with a little crochet chain and loop at each end for easy hanging.  

These colours are not true, the green is greener and the white is cream.

My garland is now hanging across the window in the front room, announcing to the world that this Christmas, I am trendy.  My Advent calendar and candle are on the mantlepiece and that is the sum total of my festive decorating so far.  Preparations for Christmas are on schedule and over the last three days I have unhurriedly wrapped thirty-two gifts, twenty-five of which were delivered yesterday.  The space I made last week has indeed allowed room for Christmas spirit to start creeping in.

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Wednesday 5 December 2018

Rediscovering Reading, Part Two

Hello lovely readers, thank you for dropping in.  In July I wrote about how I had rediscovered my reading mojo after it went missing a couple of years ago - that post is here.  At the beginning of this year I set myself a reading target of twelve books, one each month, a great improvement on the two books I read last year, and in July I was excited to report to you that during the first six months of the year I had completed nine books, three quarters of the journey with a whole six months to go.  

I finished the twelfth book on 16th August and at that point I considered resetting the target but decided against it because I didn't want to put myself under any pressure, I wanted to enjoy and savour each book I read without feeling the need to rush to the end and pick up another.  However, nagging away at the back of my mind was the thought that as I had read nine books during the first half of the year, I should be able to read another nine during the second half, giving me a definitely-not-a-target of eighteen books.  At the end of September I finished book number fifteen and a sneaky thought entered my head: as I seemed to be reading at the rate of one book per fortnight, could I read another six books before the end of the year, taking the total to twenty-one?  I really wasn't sure because December is usually a very busy month, and twenty-one seems a humungous number compared with twelve, so I tried to stamp on this thought, but it was resilient and kept springing back up.  I continued to read at an enjoyable pace and last Saturday, the day before Advent Sunday...I completed book number twenty!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Would you like to have a look at the eleven books I have read over the last five months?  Here they are - 

It's an eclectic selection.  If you read my summer posts, you might remember The Tale of Beatrix Potter, an excellent biography published three years after Beatrix's death and updated in the 1980s, and Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy, set during The Great War.  Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite authors although I read Life Before Man slowly as it is very textural, if that makes sense, each sentence making me think, "Why has she written that?  What is the hidden reason?"  All of these books have earned their places on my bookshelves and will be staying.  My daughter lent me Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and I had read so much about it that I didn't let it linger but read it straight away.  It is an easy read but Eleanor will stay with me for a long time; I think everyone should read it.  Have the Men Had Enough? is about a family's struggle to look after Grandma as she becomes too frail to live independently and, sadly, I don't think society has moved any further forward with the issues the book raises since Margaret Forster wrote it thirty years ago.  It's a sobering tale.

For as long as I can remember the boxed set of books by Lillian Beckwith stood on my mother's bookshelves (that has made me giggle because I think the phrase "boxed set" means something completely different to many people nowadays) and I have often glanced at it and thought, "I'm going to read that one day," although I don't remember ever voicing that thought aloud.  So, I was surprised when my mother gave it to me on my fiftieth birthday, saying that I could read it and then pass it on.  I had absolutely no idea what these books were about.  Have you heard of them?  They are about a young English woman who moves to the Hebrides in the 1940s and lives on a croft (and for that reason I kept thinking of Mamas Mercantile, if you are familiar with her blog). They are entertaining anecdotal tales which reminded me very much of James Herriot's books, which I read in the 1970s.  That is actually Lillian Beckwith's story, although these books are apparently fictional.  

Of these eleven books, five are staying in my house and six are moving out.  I have enjoyed every one of them and now I shall enjoy the space which the departing six will leave behind.  My reading mojo is fully restored and I shall carry on next year; my target, again, is to read twelve books in 2019 because I am going to start working my way through the fat ones and I have already picked out the first.  In the meantime, there are almost four weeks left of 2018 and I have one book left to read.  It is this one. - 

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Tuesday 4 December 2018

Making Room

Hello, thank you for popping in here and thank you for the kind and understanding comments you left here yesterday.  So far, I have not missed my college notes at all!

In October 2009 the Best Beloved and I went away by ourselves for a weekend, a memorable couple of days in a cottage on Anglesey.  Beside the fireplace there was a wicker basket which held a large pile of Country Living magazines and over the course of the weekend I think I looked through all of them.  I was hooked; I loved the photographs, the recipes, the articles, I loved everything about them, even though they portrayed a lifestyle so very different to my own.  Those magazines filled my head with unattainable daydreams which made me very happy.  So when we returned home I bought the current issue, and the next month I bought another, and so it went on for a year or so.  The Best Beloved noticed how much I enjoyed reading this magazine and surprised me with a subscription for my birthday and, feeling quite smug with his excellently-received choice of gift, did the same the following year.  Then came the time of austerity when birthday gifts and monthly magazines were luxuries which we couldn't afford so there were no new issues for me.  However, because I am a bit of a hoarder, and I really couldn't bring myself to get rid of such beautiful magazines, I had kept every copy so as the months turned I was able to pull out the appropriate issue from a previous year and reread it.  This made me feel quite smug.

Several years have passed like this and the magazines have been read several times.  They have sat in a pile beside my fireplace, not in a lovely wicker basket but held tight and tidy in a corner in an almost architectural manner.  When I say "a pile", it's actually more like "a column", perhaps almost "a pillar".  I am very grateful to those magazines for the hours of pleasure they have given me but, feeling energised by the bit of space I acquired on Sunday, yesterday I felt ready to bid them goodbye.  Twenty-seven of them are now in the recycling bin - not all, I have kept the December issues because I do like an inspirational festive magazine.

So now I have a little more space than I had this time yesterday.  I had hoped that I would feel a little lighter than I felt yesterday but I don't.  Instead, I think I am looking round to see where the next extra bit of space might come from.  If I make enough space, there may be room for some Christmas spirit- it's not here yet but that's all right because it's not Christmas yet, it's Advent, a time for taking stock and preparing for the future.

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x 

Monday 3 December 2018

The Beginning of Advent

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  It is pouring with rain here this morning and I am glad to be at home, although it is not cold and the residual warmth left in the ashes of last night's fire are enough to take the chill off the room.

Did you have a good weekend?  I dug out my Advent calendar, now in its sixth year, I think.  Every January I carefully close the little cardboard doors and put it away, pressed down under a heavy book so that those doors will stay firmly closed.  I don't want a piece of chocolate every day, or a piece of cheese, a shot of alcohol or a new beauty product, I want to look at a festive picture - my daughters, of course, think I am daft and can't see any point in an Advent calendar without chocolate.  I also dug out my star-shaped, glass Advent tealight holder.  I discovered a few years ago that I prefer  numbered tealights to a traditional Advent candle and although they are not as easy to find, I bought a set in The Range last month for £1.99.  This twinkle time every evening is one of the reasons I like Advent.

According to the preacher at yesterday's Advent Sunday service, Advent is about excitement, reflection and preparation; it's about taking stock of where we are and planning for the future.  I haven't yet found this year's excitement but I have been taking stock and I have made a Big Decision: I no longer need my degree notes.  Please be aware that I graduated in 1986 and I haven't looked at these notes for more than thirty years!  So why have I kept them?  My best friend, who I have known for almost forty years, still has hers and says that she couldn't get rid of them because it would mean letting go of that part of her life and I think that until now, I haven't been ready to let go.  My college years were a golden time.  However, I feel ready now and on Saturday I opened up the wooden chest and took out four box files, two lever arch files and three A4 ringbinders.  I methodically emptied them, glancing through them and removing any staples so that all the paper and card could go into the recycling bin.  I realised that these were not my original lecture notes, they were the revision notes I made as I prepared to sit my exams, so this was a condensed version of three years of study!  Inevitably, memories swam to the surface but I felt OK.  Inside one of the folders I found my third year timetable and I remembered what a shock to the system it was to have to be in college by 9am on Thursdays after two years of leisurely mornings with Simon Bates and Our Tune on Radio 1!

The Best Beloved carried these papers straight outside to the recycling bin and this morning it has been emptied.  They are gone, irretrievably, and where they were there is space.  I feel a little bit lighter.  I must confess that I haven't entirely got rid of the evidence of that part of my life: there is a shoe box in the chest labelled "Student Life" which I am not yet ready to go through. 

However, also gone from the chest are the Christmas cards I received in 1994.  Goodness knows why I kept them!

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Friday 30 November 2018

Two Holy Wells, a Flat-Pack Church and Salad with Gravy

Hello, thank you for dropping in here, where today you will find a little haven away from the relentless reminders that C******** is coming.  It's November, the sun is shining and I am going to share with you a day out on an equally sunny day in September, the funniest day I have had for a long time.

You might remember that in the summer I visited St Winefride's Well in Holywell with two friends.  I wrote about our visit here and you might want to clink on the link to read St Winefride's story, but the short version is that she lived in the seventh century and when she died, she was buried in the grounds of the convent at Gwytherin where she was abbess.  Five hundred years later a monk from Shrewsbury Abbey made a pilgrimage to her holy well and, having been healed by the water, decided that her bones should be exhumed and transported to Shrewsbury Abbey so that they could be properly venerated.  (This also worked out well for the Abbey, which became an extremely popular pilgrimage site, in England second only to the shrine of St Thomas a Becket in Canterbury).  If you are familiar with Ellis Peters' stories about Brother Cadfael, the first novel, A Morbid Taste For Bones, is based on this venture.  So, in 1138 poor St Winefride was dug up from her peaceful resting place and carried to Shrewsbury.  The journey was too far to complete in one day so overnight the party rested at Woolston in Shropshire and where her bones were laid - guess what?  A spring of holy water appeared!  This well, too, became famous for its healing powers and sometimes, stones were found in it which were stained with red spots resembling bloodstains, exactly like stones found in the well at Holywell - St Winefride's blood.  (Actually, its a type of algae, but why spoil a good story?!)  So, my friends and I decided that, having been to Holywell, we should also visit St Winefride's Well in Shropshire.

This time there were four of us as one friend's husband came too.  I was in charge of directions.  "Tight and considerate parking for at the most 2 cars, in a lane just off the main through road at Woolston, then follow the path to the right for a couple of minutes, and the well housing becomes apparent" I read out to the driver.  We found the lane easily and parked tightly and considerately on a grass verge on the left in which large tyre marks were visible.  In front of us was a large metal gate, possibly a farm gate, from behind which a scowling man watched us, so the driver left plenty of space for large vehicles to get around our car if necessary.  We got out of the car (I didn't, I cowered on the back seat) and the scowling man began to berate us rather aggressively, saying that his vehicles wouldn't be able to get through, accusing us of parking on his lawn and saying that we should park near the well if we were visiting it.  We were parked near the well!  My friend's husband asked him to be civil and said that he hadn't seen tractor marks in a lawn before and the driver reparked the car on the right of the lane, tightly and considerately.  Phew!

So we walked down the path which was edged with ripe, luscious blackberries glowing in the sunshine, and speckled wood butterflies danced before us, leading the way.  After a few minutes we saw the well house, which is now owned by the Landmark Trust and can be rented out for holidays - here is the link.  It looks like a beautiful, secluded, peaceful place for two but be aware that the bathroom is in a separate building on the other side of the path!  This building was probably built in the 16th century to replace an earlier chapel and was used as a courthouse before it became a cottage.  Behind the well house, the water flows into a series of stone basins which were used by local people for public bathing - but only until 1755, when they were closed because of "riotous" behaviour!  The mind boggles. 

Now, gentle reader, I was a bit cross because the pool into which the waters flow has been completely claimed by plants and weed.  I would like the Landmark Trust to clear some of it to release the magic of the water.  I should also tell you that while I found the place to be a beautiful spot, I did not feel its supposed holiness at all.  There was no magic, no spirit of St Winefride, although I was touched when I saw that an earlier visitor had left a little posy of flowers for her.  I mentioned this aloud and it sparked off a goodnatured discussion about "thin places", places where the barrier between this world and another is fragile; my friend's husband said that there is no such thing, it is not that God is in some places and not others because God is everywhere, instead it is we who put barriers in place so that we can't sense God's presence and lower them in some places so that we can.  Hmm. 

So we ambled back along the path to the car and drove for a few minutes to Maesbury, where a sign proclaimed that the Church of  St John the Baptist was open.  We couldn't resist it.

This church must be the best flat-pack thing I have ever seen.  It was purchased from Harrods in London in 1906 for the grand sum of £120 and transported up to Shropshire where two local men erected it.  The interior wooden cladding is original and the pews were made by carpenters from a local college in the 1950s and 1960s.  

We got back into the car and drove past a sign for a canalside tearoom to Oswestry in the hope of finding something to eat.  These road trips usually include a refuelling stop somewhere with cake, china plates and pots of tea.  We parked the car and walked to a likely-looking tearoom only to discover that it was closed.  By this time we were quite hungry, some of us having foregone breakfast to make room for cake, and as there was a pub a few doors down, The Oswestrian, we decided to go there.  The pub was busy, which I took to be a good sign, and everyone seemed to be eating hot food, so we decided to follow suit.  Two of us chose "jacket potatoes with tasty sausages and fried onions" and salad while our friends made more sensible choices.  When will I ever learn?!  When our plates arrived, two or three thin sausages were nestled inside the potato which was then covered in thick onion gravy.  This was not what we were expecting.  We quickly ate up our salad first before the gravy seeped across the plate to meet it, but I was too slow.  I can confirm that salad with gravy really isn't very nice and coleslaw with gravy is absolutely revolting.  Eventually, somebody who had chosen something sensible to eat said, "I don't hear anybody saying, "Mmmm, these sausages are tasty!""  He was right.  We were not saying that.  I don't think I shall be dining at The Oswestrian again, but it did make us laugh a lot and gave us a story to dine out on.

Oswestry is named after St Oswald, the Christian King of Northumbria who fought the pagan King Penda of Mercia at the Battle of Maserfield in 641 or 642 AD.  Oswald was killed in the battle and his body dismembered.  Legend has it that a large bird, possibly a raven or even an eagle, swooped down, picked up one of his arms and flew off with it.  Where the bird dropped the arm, guess what?  A spring of holy water appeared!  We couldn't resist it so after lunch we set of to find St Oswald's Well.  

Again, I was a bit disappointed.  I think Oswestry should be making more of a hoo-hah about it.  Instead, it sits quite forlornly in a residential area which was not easy to find.  There was litter both around and floating in it and it felt uncared for, as if nobody expected anyone to actually visit it deliberately, and certainly not like a place of pilgrimage.  There is a rather grand statue of an eagle above it, in the park, separated from the well by a chainlink fence.  I felt a bit sad for St Oswald, who founded the monastery at Lindisfarne, where he is much better remembered.

So that was our first day out as a foursome.  My friend's husband had been keen to join us on one of our road trips but I'm not sure this gave the best impression of what we usually do.  The "holy wells" were a bit disappointing (to say the least) and THERE WAS NO CAKE, but we laughed all day.  We even laughed when we talked about the belligerent farmer who made us move the car.  I can't really tell you why.  Now that I have written it down it doesn't seem very funny at all, so I am sorry if you are disappointed.  I suppose it shows that it doesn't really matter where you go or what you do, the thing which makes the difference is the company.

Happy St Andrews' Day.

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Feeling Like An Ordinary 12th Century Person at Heath Chapel

Hello lovely readers, thank you for calling in here, I'm always pleased to know that you've been.  Before the business of the forthcoming season becomes overwhelming, and please note how I am fending it off by avoiding using the C word, I need to finish off telling you about my summer adventures (which also serves to deflect my attention from the forthcoming festivities).

When we went off in search of St Milburga in August we took a little detour to find another place which I have wanted to visit for years: it is Heath Chapel, built in about 1140 as a dependent chapelry of the parish church at Stoke St Milborough, and only just over two miles away.  So it really shouldn't have taken us almost an hour to find it!  I consulted the atlas and we headed off in the right direction.  "It stands by itself in a field," I said, "So we'll see it."  We drove around failing to see it for quite a while before eventually getting out the satnav and plugging in the postcode, which took us along roads which were too small to even be on the map - if you'd like to go, it's SY7 9DS.  There was an incident with half a dozen excited sheep who really shouldn't have been on the road and galloped along in front of us before they found an open gateway and veered off.  At last we saw a sign for Heath and, having driven past a very few large houses, I shouted, "Stop!" and we did, abruptly.  I had caught sight of the chapel through a gate between two tall hedges.  The noticeboard just inside the gate directed us to turn into the lane we had just passed and park the car beside another gate; it also informed us that although the church door was locked, the key was hanging on the back of said noticeboard -  again, I am giving you all of this in case you'd like to visit yourself because you don't want to waste the best part of an hour driving around the lanes like we did, even though the countryside is rather lovely, in a hilly, farmy sort of way. 

And so we walked across the small "field" which isn't really a field at all to the chapel which served a village which isn't really there at all any more either. 
The chapel is very small and very simple.  In typical Norman style, it is just a squarish chancel with a longer, slightly wider nave - no porch, no transept, no tower, no gallery, no stained glass.  Nikolaus Pevsner described it as the "perfect example" of a small Norman church, but that's not quite right because one of the windows in the north wall was altered in the seventeenth century, presumably to give more light to the pulpit.  

In 2013 when the National Churches Trust asked sixty well-known people to choose their favourite church in the UK, the historian Dr Kate Williams chose Heath Chapel, saying that "going inside is the closest you will ever feel to an ordinary 12th century Shropshire person going to worship. These traces of ordinary life are very rare from so far back – which is why it must be treasured."  The classicist Dame Mary Beard, who grew up nearby, also chose it, describing it as a "wonderful reminder of just how moving the plainest architecture can be."  So, would you like to see what the fuss is all about?

The most decorative feature of this chapel is the doorway, typically arched with a plain tympanum and chevron mouldings. I imagined the skilled hands of the mason carving the stone almost nine hundred years ago.  The ironwork may be original, too.

The key did not work easily and I had to wiggle it about a bit, but not for long before I was able to push open the door and step inside.  This is what I saw. -
Do you see the scraps of Medieval painting above that typical Norman arch?  They were whitewashed over after the Reformation and only uncovered just over one hundred years ago.  Apparently, this is The Last Judgement, but I couldn't tell! This one, on the south wall, is St George.  Obviously!
The change in Anglican worshipping styles in the seventeenth century meant that the chapel acquired new interior fittings: the pulpit, the altar rail and the seating all date from that time, including the GINORMOUS box pew in the chancel, which I could only just get far enough away from to photograph!  It's like an enormous sleigh, with a bench on the back for the driver.
The font is also huge, as was the Norman style.  I think the baptism of babies at that time involved dunking them right in the water, rather than the more restrained sprinkling which tends to be favoured nowadays.

Do you see those plastic boxes placed rather incongruously on the side and ruining my photo?  Those boxes led me to believe that this church is still in use.  It is certainly cared for and cared about - there were glass jars of greenery on the altar, sitting on top of a plastic cover which has presumably been placed there to protect it from the whatnots which might fall off the ceiling in such an ancient building.  After I got home a bit of internet hunting revealed that a family service is held in the chapel every month.  That made me feel happy, that the building is still needed to do its proper job.

Also, I don't know if you spotted this in the exterior photographs but the chapel has obviously had a spanking new roof, I think within the last five years, replacing the last new roof of 1912.
We had the place to ourselves while we were there.  A look through the visitors' book revealed that Heath Chapel is obviously very dear to a good number of people, some of whom visit repeatedly and I can entirely understand why because the atmosphere is very, very special.  I could have stayed for much longer.  I have written before about thin places, places where the boundary between this world and another feels very thin, and Heath Chapel is such a place.  The atmosphere there was amazing. Perhaps I was feeling the presence of all those ordinary twelfth century Shropshire people who Dr Kate Williams was referring to.  Yes, the paint is peeling, the place is very dusty, the (nineteenth century) flagstones could do with a mopping and the woodwork is crying out to be fed BUT I agree with Dame Mary Beard, it is a very moving place.  "Wow!"  I kept saying over and over again, "Just Wow!"  The Best Beloved thought I was a bit bonkers, but he's thought that for a long time and I keep telling him that that's why he loves me!

So, if you do get the chance to visit Heath Chapel, I highly recommend you make the most of it.   It is a very special place.  

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Art, Golden Sunshine and Family Togetherness

Hello, thank you for calling in.  Are you warm enough?  The temperature here is six degrees Celsius today and I had forgotten what feeling cold is like.  Having seen the weather forecast, we turned on the heating yesterday in readiness, not in the daytime, that seems profligate, which is why I am wrapped up in layers of cardigan and blanket this afternoon, but for a couple of hours in the mornings and another few in the evenings.  I am quite hardy and I know that I'll adjust to the cooler temperatures as time goes on but until then...Goodness Me! 

I realise that I'm a bit out of kilter but I'd just like to catch hold of October and set it down here before it drifts entirely out of reach.  It began with celebrations as Tom Kitten reached his first birthday.  I suppose we shall always begin October with celebrations now.  On the day itself he went out for lunch with his mother, his great-grandparents and myself, four generations of us all together.  What a lucky boy he is.  My gifts to him included a jacket and hat which I knitted for him in Drops Cotton Merino, a yarn which is soft and smooth to use and has a lovely drape.  I recommend it. (My other gifts included a pair of teeny tiny shoes which were so expensive that I feel sure they must be made of gold!)

The following day I drove to Ironbridge Gorge to visit an art exhibition.  It poured with rain all day but as I arrived at 4pm, the sun was trying to come out and the light was dramatic, showing up the greens of the Gorge.  I stood and hastily snapped a photograph on my 'phone.

Inside the exhibition room I found my friend Andy Smith and his paintings of waterfalls.  Can you hear the water?

I spent about an hour there and when I came back outside, the sky was unpunctuated blue and the golden light just about took my breath away.  I decided not to go straight home and instead drove a little way along the Gorge to Ironbridge where I went for a little wander by myself.  

I don't live far away from the little market town of Wellington which holds a free arts festival in October and that evening I attended my first event, a talk about Patrick Bronte, father of Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell, who was an assistant curate at the church in Wellington early in his career.  The speaker was a museum assistant from Howarth Parsonage Museum, Kathie Mack, and I enjoyed it very much.  (Meanwhile, the Best Beloved was in the pub!)  Over the course of the next week I attended four more events, three plays and an illustrated talk, some by myself and some with friends, most in churches and one in a little theatre.  The festival is funded by a grant from the town council and I think it's an excellent use of money as it makes drama, poetry, literature, art, music and dance accessible to those with even the smallest incomes.

During the third week of October I met a friend for a walk in the park in Ironbridge.  The sun was shining and the air was warm, as the weather had been for most of the month, so it took me by surprise when I realised that it was autumn.  It was the smell which gave it away, the damp, earthy smell which I noticed before I saw the amber leaves on the trees.

The end of the month brought the half term holiday and we packed up our cars and five of us went to Guernsey to see The Mathematician.  It was ten weeks since she had left us and the longest period we had ever been apart.  I had missed her SO much.  Our first day there brought all the weather - wind, rain and hail - but for the next six days the sun shone and we walked on the beach every day.  We ate wonderful food, I read and crocheted and came home restored and refreshed.  I also achieved something I have wanted to do for several years: I sat quietly with the Best Beloved and watched the sun set over the sea.  I found it a spellbinding experience.

Travelling back to Poole on the ferry, Tom Kitten charmed several other passengers as he toddled around.  One of those passengers, a friendly, white-haired chap with a beard, was Father Christmas, who spends every December in Marks & Spencer in Jersey, at least that's what he told us!

So that was October, a month full of art, golden sunshine and family togetherness which passed so busily that I almost missed my favourite season.  When we returned at the beginning of November I found that the trees were wearing their best autumn finery, vivid shades of red, yellow and orange which exploded like fireworks. Autumn had burst open while I was away and I had almost missed it. 

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x