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