Thursday, 31 December 2020

This Year's Books - 2020

Hello.  Here we are at the end of 2020.  These days at the end of the year are usually deliciously languid, relished after the hustle and bustle of Christmas and its preparations.  This year, however, I have found them too long, probably because there was so little hustle and bustle preceding them and because I haven't seen another human being apart from the Best Beloved since Christmas Day.  I haven't been unhappy, we have had two beautiful snowfalls this week and I have eaten mince pies and drunk wine, knitted and watched films, but I am ready to move on now and leave this horrible year behind.

It's time to show you the books I have read this year.  I'm not a fast reader so I was amazed that I read four books in January (although let's face it, the weather was horrible so I didn't really go out anywhere) and thought that I would have no problem hitting my target of twenty books by the end of November.  Four!!  The first was a Christmas gift, Grandmothers by Salley Vickers.  Nothing much happens in this book but it perfectly encapsulates how I feel about being a grandmother.  I read a disparaging review of it in The Guardian and it was obvious to me that the critic wasn't a grandmother because she just didn't understand the relationships in the book.  I enjoyed it, and I also enjoyed the physical presence of the book: it's a comfortable size in the hand, beautifully bound and has a ribbon bookmark.  What more could I want?

Having finished Grandmothers in four days, I was prompted to reread Miss Garnet's Angel by the same author.  I first read this novel when it was published in paperback in 2002 and considered it one of my favourite books.  Eighteen years later I still loved it and perhaps understood and appreciated it even more with the benefit of those eighteen years of life experience.  It's certainly staying in the house.

My next book was Burial Rites by Hannah Kent which fictionalizes the true story of the last woman to be executed in Iceland, in 1829.  I've been to Iceland and its landscape, architecture and way of life are intrinsic to the story.  I loved it and tried to pass it on to The Teacher but she pointed out to me that she had already read it and lent it to me so it was, in fact, her own book! 

January's final book was Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte.  I've read this before too, but that was more than thirty years ago and I couldn't remember it.  It's a wonderful novel, if you are put off by the idea of reading "the classics" I recommend this as the style is easy to read and it's only 180 pages long.  I polished it off in three days and was left outraged and saddened by the way young governesses were treated by their employers in the nineteenth century.  

So, I thought I should read Miss Bronte's other novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  To be quite honest, it's not as good as many people proclaim it to be and I spent weeks mired in it.  I think my biggest problem with it was that I didn't sympathise with the narrator, although there's also the fact that while The Tenant is supposed to be an independent woman, she's ultimately reliant on her family's financial and practical support and she makes an annoying marriage choice.  I'm trying not to spoil it for you in case you want to read it yourself but really, don't bother, read Jane Eyre instead.  This paperback book has now fallen apart, having been used for serious study twice and reading "enjoyment" twice more so out it will go.

After trudging through that one I moved on to The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge. I picked this up from a free stall because I read The Herb of Grace by the same author three years ago and enjoyed it very much. This one started off well but I was a bit disappointed by the end. I thought it was a bit old-fashioned, but that doesn't usually put me off a book, I like old-fashioned, so it must have been something more. However, I'm glad I read it and it can leave now.

That one took me up to the middle of April and I read two more books that month - we were in lockdown and I still couldn't go out anywhere.  The first was The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce.  This is the second of her books which I have read and enjoyed.  It is about music but it's really about people and relationships and community, subjects in which I am very interested, and it's very well-written.

Next came Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.  I really shouldn't have read this but it was so good that I couldn't help myself.  In the opening chapter, a virulent new strain of influenza appears and eventually wipes out 99% of the world's population.  Do you see why I shouldn't have read it?  It's a marvellous novel about memory, loss and the importance of art and if we weren't in the middle of a global pandemic I would be urging you all to read it but it's a bit too close to the bone for these times.

In May I read Holy Fools by Joanne Harris.  I have read a few of her books and enjoyed them and this one didn't disappoint.  However, after I finished it I decided that I needed to give myself a good talking to.  There's always something dark in her novels and, on top of Station Eleven, it really didn't do my mood any good.  There was enough darkness in the real world without escaping to it in books so I decided that my next book shouldn't be one of the serious novels lining my To Be Read shelf but instead it should be something light and comforting.  So when Martin Jarvis began reading Just William by Richmal Crompton every morning on Radio 4 I reached my dusty paperback down from the shelves which hold the books I have had since I was a child and, for the first time in more than forty years, opened the cover.  It was perfect.  Actually, Martin Jarvis was perfect, even the Best Beloved enjoyed listening with me and he actually allowed me to read chunks of my book aloud to him!  Amusing, light and comforting, it was just what I needed.

In June I continued in the same vein and read What Katy Did by Susan M. Coolidge.  Again, it is more than forty years since I read this, and it provided a good escape from reality.  This cheap copy was not mine, it must have come into the house for one of my daughters, and when I found the first spelling mistake I knew that it would have to go as soon as I finished it.  I cannot abide spelling mistakes.

I had really slowed up by this point.  I tried several grown-up novels and cast them aside before I had a brainwave and fished out The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.  I know that I'm a bit late to the party with this one but honestly, please read it if you haven't.  Again, it's about the healing powers of relationships and community and it's beautifully written.  Like The Music Shop, this one was passed on to me by my mother so Ma, if you're reading, please would you like to lend me The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, the companion novel?

I completed Harold's journey on 6th July and I didn't pick up a book for another two months.  My brain just wouldn't settle down and let me become absorbed in a novel.  However, in the middle of September we went away to the seaside for a long weekend and I wanted to take a book with me, just in case.  I scanned the shelf and spotted Coastliners by Joanne Harris, another novel which has been sitting waiting for more years than I care to remember, and I thought that as I would be by the coast, this book might be suitable as I do find that reading a book in some context enhances my enjoyment.  It was indeed suitable.  Ms Harris always crafts a fine story and I enjoyed it very much, sitting on the beach in the sunshine, until the denouement, which I thought was rushed and so lacked credibility.  However, I am glad that I read it.

Next came Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield, another of my childhood books, this one dating from the 1970s when a Puffin paperback cost 25p.  I love this story SO much, before I wanted to be Jo March I wanted to be Pauline Fossil.  Reading this book again was easy, calming, comforting and really quite delightful and I didn't choose anything else for a while afterwards, not because I didn't want to read but because I wanted to keep living in this one.

Book number fifteen was a properly grown-up book, The Other Side by Mary Gordon.  I didn't like it.  I stuck with it because I hoped that it would get better and because I always finish a book once I start it but it didn't get better and with one exception, the characters didn't become more likeable.  This book was passed on to me and I shall now be passing it out of the door.

Reading My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain brought me to the end of November.  This was passed on to me by my bookish aunt who was interested in our family's Irish heritage and it's about a middle-aged woman who returns to Ireland after living in London for all of her adult life to research a nineteenth century mystery.  I enjoyed it and I am glad that I read it.  


That brought me almost to the end of November.  There are only sixteen books here so I missed my target of twenty but I'm not really disappointed because I have read sixteen books, which is fourteen more than I read in 2017, and there was a point this year when I thought that I may only read eleven, and let's not forget that I slogged through The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and The Other Side, for which I deserve some sort of endurance award.

At the beginning of December I pulled out these books to dip into through the month.  Nigel Slater's The Christmas Chronicles was new last year and Jostein Gaarder's The Christmas Mystery  was new the year before.  Each of them is a bit like an Advent calender, with a short chapter to read each day.  They are relatively new friends but I intend them to become old friends.  New for this year was Yuletide, which is great if you are at all interested in British customs, traditions and folklore, and Dorothy Wordsworth's Christmas Birthday, which is a poem written by Carol Ann Duffy and beautifully illustrated by Tom Duxbury.  I like to read my battered old copy of The Tailor of Gloucester every Christmas as that is when it is set, and you already know that I like to read a book in context if it's possible.  Growing up I found this story quite creepy, all those mice scurrying about behind the skirting boards and being trapped under teacups by Simpkin, ready for his dinner, but I like it much more now and find it heartwarming. Beatrix Potter claimed that this was her favourite of the Tales.

Now, all this dipping was fine and festive BUT I found myself wanting to read something longer, a proper story.  I wasn't sure quite what because I didn't want anything completely immersive when there were Christmas preparations to be made, and I really wanted something seasonal, but what to choose?  Then I had a lightbulb moment: I remembered that my mother had told me about an article in The Telegraph at the beginning of December which stated, "A warm November with Christmas decorations up early has led to a reverse Narnia, where it is always Christmas and never winter."  Narnia!  I took out of its slipcase my precious copy of The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  It made a perfect December read, particularly for this year - ice and snow, Father Christmas, spring emerging to bring hope and the triumph of good over evil.  I'm sure you can see the metaphor.

My last December read was a gift from Father Christmas (whose handwriting is identical to my mother's - isn't that funny?).  This is not my first copy of A Christmas Carol but it is the first one which is new to me and it is a beautiful edition, sitting well in the hand and with a good-sized font, which is increasingly important to me as the years pass.  I read it over a couple of days after Christmas.

So, that was my year in books.  It has been the strangest year of my life and I know that some people embraced the opportunity afforded them by lockdown and read dozens of books but I found myself unable to do that and at times when I felt that the ground was always shifting beneath my feet I found stability, comfort and relief in reading books I loved when I was a child and novels about the importance of caring human relationships.

Tonight we shall light fire and candles, eat, drink and be merry, just the two of us, as usual.    

 See you next year. 

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x


Monday, 28 December 2020

Merry Christmas 1990

Happy Christmas!  I know that many people start taking down their decorations now but I keep a traditional Christmas and today is the fourth day.  Nobody has sent me any colley birds but it will be Christmas here until Epiphany on 6th January, when my three little magi will arrive at the crib. 

Something rather special happened on the day I wrote my last post, 23rd December.  The daughter of a dear friend sent me a message which said, "Quick!  Look on your doorstep," so I did, and there I found a shallow, blue Wedgwood box bound with satin ribbon.  I brought it inside, out of the rain, opened it and found a lovely plate, this lovely plate, which is now sitting in the middle of my dining table - 


Along with the plate there was a card which says, "In commemoration of the year we met and the amazing memories that followed."  The card is next to me on my desk right now.  I felt quite overwhelmed.  My friend is a quiet, shy person and we see each other infrequently - and not at all this year - but we have shared some wonderful and some dreadful experiences over these thirty years, the kind of experiences which form strong bonds.  I wept as those memories filled me up but I wasn't just weeping for the memories, I was weeping because at a bleak time when my emotional health has really been stretched, somebody had put time, money and energy into showing me that they love me and care about me.  

I intend to learn from this experience.  You don't always know how other people are coping and a small gesture can make a big difference.  I want the people who I care about to know that they are important to me.  But that's for next year, right now I am enjoying these quiet days between Christmas and New Year with good books, mince pies and crochet. This morning we watched the snow fall for a couple of hours, covering the view from the window with a pure white blanket for a few hours, although it has gone now.  Right now, things seem as they should be.

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x


Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Rolling With The Punches

Hello.  Do you know whether you are coming or going?  I'm not sure that I do.  It's just as well that the Best Beloved and I decided that we would have no definite plan this year and just roll with the punches, and this week, they have really felt like punches.  We thought that we knew where we would be on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and then Boris popped up on our screens on Saturday afternoon and within half an hour all the rules had changed again.  We remain in Tier 2, as do The Teacher and her family, but the big change for us was the alteration of the  rules for Christmas bubbles.  Messages flew through cyberspace, telephone calls were made and eventually, new arrangements were agreed.  The Teacher and her family will have breakfast with us and a late lunch with her husband's family so that her children will see all their grandparents on Christmas Day, not ideal but that is the only day that people from different households can meet together.  For the first time since 1987 the Best Beloved and I will have Christmas dinner for two.  (We are not cooking for two: he has bought a goose!)

An hour later we met my sisters and parents online for a Zoom meeting, as we have done every Saturday since Easter.  One of my sisters remained in Tier 2, another had gone into Tier 4 and while we were speaking the rest of them went into Alert 4 in Wales.  My head was spinning.  My parents will also be having Christmas dinner for two, for the first time since before I was born.  

Monday was the day of the winter solstice and this was the only day of the month for which I did have firm plans.  I wanted to watch the sun rise from the field behind The Teacher's garden, the place where I watched it rise on the day of the summer solstice and then I wanted to gather some greenery to bring into the house.  During the afternoon I wanted us to bring in and decorate our Christmas tree before going outside to watch the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn just after sunset.  In the evening we planned to watch a Midwinter concert online.  Well, we left the house at 7.30am and discovered that there was something wrong with the electrical system in the car.  Fortunately, we have another car so we used that one to drive to The Teacher's garden but the cloud was thick so we couldn't see the sunrise, it poured with rain so I didn't collect any greenery and the cloud cover shielded the planets in the evening sky as well.  Harrumph!  However, we did decorate the Christmas tree, light the fire and the candles, acknowledge the triumph of light over darkness and watch the concert, which was great.  


On Tuesday morning I left the house just before 7am and went to a big supermarket for the first time in nine months.  Sainsbury's was very civilised and I felt quite safe.  The Best Beloved was still in bed when I got home at 8am but after breakfast he had a proper look at his car and said that the problem was with the central locking system and although he could open the doors and the boot manually with a key, he couldn't open the fuel cap so we could only travel as far as we could get with the fuel which was already in there.   Meanwhile, I was on the 'phone to Italy.  I ordered a box of wine seven weeks ago which had gone astray.  I had been e-mailing the company to chase it up and the last communication I received from them stated that the order was being processed in the warehouse.  That was a week ago so I rang them to find out what was happening.  I spoke to a very nice woman who told me that the wine was still in Italy but assured me that I would have it before Christmas.  I told her that I wouldn't have it before Christmas because of the restrictions being imposed on travel between the UK and Europe and lamented that I would have to have a cup of tea with my Christmas dinner.  She then said that the wine would definitely be with me before the end of the year.  I am not hopeful and think that I might be toasting the new year with a cup of tea as well.  

In the evening the solid cloud cover hid the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn again.  The Best Beloved drove out to a dark, rainy car park to meet my brother-in-law and exchange Christmas presents.  We have always called this a "sleigh run".  He returned with wine, a gift from my parents for Christmas Day, and while he was driving home the car's electrical locking system had sprung back into life so he made the most of the opportunity and drove to the petrol station to fill up.  Hooray!

Today it has rained and rained and rained and I have felt very tired.  I wrote this blogpost this morning and the laptop lost its internet connection before I had saved my musings so they disappeared.  Fanbloomintastic.  The Secretary of State for Health gave a press briefing  at 3pm and announced that other counties will be going into Tier 4 on Saturday and to be honest, I felt relieved because when he started speaking I thought he was going to announce that nobody could mix with any other households on Christmas Day. Things change so quickly that it's hard to keep up but we remain in Tier 2 so we can still meet other people outdoors.  

At times this week I have felt as if everything is going wrong.  We had a dodgy moment at lunchtime today when we thought the Christmas tree lights had broken but we held our breath and they came on - phew!  There is still time for the Christmas rules to change, the Secretary of State hinted at that, so I don't actually know where I'll be or with whom but we have a goose, wine, candles and fuel for the fire so we'll be fine.  I'm so glad we decided not to make firm plans.  And I'm really sorry about that annoying central alignment of my first paragraph but I can't make it fully justified.  Hey ho, it's 2020.

See you soon.  

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x




  

Friday, 18 December 2020

Orion, Jupiter, a Shooting Star and Christmas Socks

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  It's always lovely to see you here.  Christmas preparations are coming along steadily but before I get to that, I need to tell you about something which happened the night before last.  It affected me quite deeply and I'm not really sure why.  I need to talk about it.  I woke up from a difficult dream at about 2am.  We haven't closed the bedroom curtains since Maundy Thursday (9th April), I don't really know why, we just stopped closing them.  There is no privacy issue and I like seeing the sky as soon as I wake up, which is what happened in the early hours of Wednesday.  It looked absolutely spectacular, thousands of tiny pinpricks of light against a dark blue sky and the larger stars of Orion directly in front of me.  I didn't know whether my newly woken, fuzzy  brain imagined those pinpricks or not until this morning when the same thing happened - it was indeed imaginary, but glorious Orion was not, standing out against a beautiful clear, starry, deep blue background.  I feel a special connexion with The Mathematician whenever I see Orion because when she was young we would often go away for a weekend to celebrate her birthday which is in January, and as we travelled through the dark on a Friday evening, Orion would keep us company.  He is such an easily identifiable constellation that he became a bit of a totem for us.  So, in the early hours of Wednesday I lay in bed watching the sky.  As the earth turned, Orion moved out of view and Jupiter appeared through the black, skeleton branches of my hawthorn tree, the brightest thing in the sky.  I was mesmerised, my mind calmed and just as I was about to drift off to sleep, a shooting star appeared and trailed diagonally across the large central pane from top right to bottom left.  I realised that I felt very emotional and I don't really understand why.  I have seen Orion, Jupiter and shooting stars many, many times but somehow, seeing them like this, as I lay in bed, meant something more than the sum of its parts.  I felt quite peculiar and emotional all day yesterday and I haven't been able to get the images out of my head - and actually, why would I want to?  The images are beautiful.

There, I don't understand what it all means but I know that it was a special experience.  Thank you for bearing with me while I wrote it all down.  Now I would like to get back to Christmassy matters, which seem rather mundane in the circumstances! 

Three years ago I knitted three pairs of Christmas socks using West Yorkshire Spinners Signature 4 ply yarn in Holly Berry, which was a soft and smooth dream to knit with.  Well, I say three pairs of socks but actually there were two pairs of socks and a pair of booties for Tom Kitten who was two months old.  The socks were for my daughters, who like to spend Christmas Eve together.


A year later Tom Kitten had, of course, grown out of his booties so I dug into my yarn stash, found the leftovers from the previous year and knitted him a pair of socks which I gave to him on Christmas Eve.

Last year his feet had grown again but there was no more yarn left so I bought a new ball and knitted him another, bigger pair for Christmas Eve.  His booties were just right for Cottontail (she does have two legs, honestly).

This year I decided that he should have his new pair at the beginning of December so that he could wear them through Advent.  Cottontail's feet have grown quickly and at seventeen months she is wearing the socks I knitted for Tom Kitten last year, when he was twenty-six months old.  The Teacher sent me this photo the other day and it made my heart sing - just look at those gorgeous little feet!

Next year I think I shall have to knit two new pairs of Holly Berry socks.

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x







Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Jolly Green(er) Wrapping

Hello, and thank you for your kind comments on my last post.  Things moved on a little this morning as The Mathematician called to let us know that she has decided to stay in Guernsey for Christmas.  She called this "bad news" but I replied that it wasn't that, it was "sensible news".  A few tears were shed on both sides but I feel better for the decision having been made.  As the Best Beloved said, it has lifted some of the fog.  So with the government saying that it won't change the three-household, five day Christmas bubble rule in England but advising us that it would be wiser to keep our bubbles as small as possible for the shortest possible length of time, we just need to work out how much time to spend with The Teacher and her family.  It's a good job I am flexible!

I met with three knitting friends yesterday to exchange Christmas cards and gifts.  It was the first time we have all been together for nine months and it gave us all a real boost.  We sat outside wrapped in many layers with hot water bottles and blankets and nobody moaned about the cold because we were just grateful to be together.  We can't wait until we can be vaccinated and our weekly knit and natter group meetings can resume.    

Now, this is what I intended to share with you last time, before my typing fingers went astray.  I enjoy wrapping gifts.  I like to turn under the edges of the paper so that no rough edges show, I like to crease my folds carefully so that they are as neat as can be and I like to adorn the parcel with carefully chosen, co-ordinated ribbons and bows.  Seeing a pile of neat, bedecked Christmas parcels gives me an all-over glow.  However, I have recently become concerned about what happens to my wrapping after the gift has been opened.  When I unwrap a gift I save any fabric ribbon and other adornments which may come in handy, carefully peel off and discard the sticky tape, fold the paper and put it in the recycling bin.  I have known for years that plasticised paper can't be recycled so I never buy it and a few years ago I discovered that glittery paper can't be recycled either so I stopped buying that, too.  I know that sticky tape is plastic and so can't be recycled which is why I peel it off when I am recycling paper but it didn't occur to me to use an alternative until I recently read that some local authorities don't accept any wrapping paper at all in recycling bins because of the sticky tape problem.  At a time when many of us are trying to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics I felt that my all-over glow needed to be sacrificed in the name of ethical responsibility.

So, I decided that this year I would wrap my Christmas gifts in good, old-fashioned brown paper.  Over the last couple of years this has become fashionable, the parcels fastened with jolly red and white bakers' twine and perhaps some sealing wax and this was my intention.  However, while I was looking around the internet for twine, wax and seals I found an independent business in Wales here which sells lovely ribbons online and I changed my plan.  I bought 80m of jolly fabric ribbon for £10 and last week, with ribbon, brown paper, a glue stick and a pen, I started wrapping.


I wrapped the paper around each gift, turned under the raw edge, applied one dab of glue on the long edge if necessary, folded in the ends and used the ribbon to secure them.  Ta-dah!  The recipient can either save the ribbon for reuse or put it out for fabric recycling and the paper can go straight into the recycling bin, leaving nothing to go into landfill.  I wrote the recipient's name straight onto the paper so there was no need for a gift tag.  I am REALLY pleased with how the parcels look and they have delivered that all-over glow.  I was especially pleased with my brother-in-law's gift: a bottle of something was placed in the same bottle bag which my sister had used for my husband's gift last year, I made a gift tag from the starry packaging she used for my gift last year and attached it with a stray piece of ribbon from my sewing box.  Ta-dah!  She hates waste and I know that she will appreciate it with a smile. 


After wrapping the first batch I remembered that I had a starry stamp somewhere, a free gift which came with a magazine at least fifteen years ago and which I had never used.  I found it in my crafting box and used a white ink pad to decorate some of the wrapped gifts and then got a bit carried away and stamped some paper before I wrapped with it.  The pleasure this gave me far outweighed the level of skill required.

So far it's been straightforward as everything I have wrapped has been rectangular so my plan may go awry when I get to the more oddly-shaped gifts, and I am aware that there are more ethical ways to wrap, but as I said to my friend who said that all she has done is give up using glittery paper, it's all small steps in the right direction and it's OK to take one step at a time, at least it is in my book.

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x



Monday, 14 December 2020

Christmas Will Still Be Christmas

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  I fully intended to be here a couple of weeks ago but sometimes real life gets in the way of good intentions, doesn't it?  I had to provide some unexpected child care (which is always delightful, if tiring), we've been waiting around for a couple of days as we had to self-isolate when someone in our childcare bubble had to have a Covid test (which, fortunately, was negative) and we have had some technical problems.  The Best Beloved thinks he has sorted out these problems but if I disappear halfway through this post, you'll know why.

However, here I am, and happy about it, too.  The weather is dreary, wet and mild, but I just don't care.  I seem to care very little about anything at the moment and yesterday the Best Beloved asked me if I was all right.  I know that I'm not, everything is so unpredictable right now and I'm not good at dealing with that, I like certainty and I like to have a plan.  Rolling with the punches is not something which I choose but that's what I have to do right now.  We have no Christmas plan really.  We intend to spend Christmas Day with The Teacher and her family but our recent Covid scare has highlighted that this may not happen.  We still don't know whether The Mathematician will be able to make it here from Guernsey or not.  We have told her that she can come with a few hours' notice and also that she mustn't feel obliged to come.  At the moment we are in Tier 2 so we can't have overnight guests.  That might change later this week or it might not.  The restrictions will be lifted on 23rd December for four nights, there will be no flights to Birmingham so she would have to fly to Southampton or Gatwick, if there are any flights, and hire a car from there and we expect that the roads will be horrendously busy on 23rd and 27th.  If she does come, hospitality venues will be closed and the only place she could meet up with her friends would be outside and it's December, not really meeting-up-outside weather.  Of course we would LOVE to see her but I am being realistic, it might not be worth it for her.  So we have no plan, only ifs and maybes, and I have unexpectedly reacted to this by emotionally shutting down somewhat.  It must be a coping mechanism, but I am usually an emotional creature and it feels strange.

Of course, whether I can gather my family together or not, Christmas is definitely not cancelled.  Yesterday afternoon I went to a lovely Christingle service on Facebook.  A bag was left on my doorstep containing all that I needed: an orange with a piece of red tape wrapped around it, a candle, four cocktail sticks and a small bag of sweets.  I spent the afternoon wrapping presents until 4pm when I stopped, pushed the wrapping paper and ribbon aside and watched the service at the kitchen table.  Actually, "watched" is the wrong word here because what I actually did was participate.  I know that about fifty bags had been given out and I like the thought of fifty people tuning in at the same time, all making our Christingles together, singing and praying, apart but together.  Alone in my kitchen, I forgot myself and sang lustily so sorry, neighbours, if I disturbed you!  When we sang Away In A Manger I placed my Christingle on the table among the presents, lit the candle and turned off the kitchen light.  I'm always a sucker for candlelight but that was a particularly special moment and reminded me that amid all the madness of Covid and Brexit, Christmas will still be Christmas, even if it won't be the same as it usually is.  

I continue to find something positive to note every day and today that is it: Christmas will still be Christmas.

Well, this post certainly didn't go in the direction I anticipated so I'll be back soon to share what I intended to share with you today.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x


Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Waiting










                                       

Hello.  Thank you for calling in.  It's been a strange time, hasn't it?  Autumn has been quite beautiful under sunshine, cloud and rain.  There are lots of trees around here, lining the roads as well as growing companionably in parks and woodlands, and whenever I have been out I have oohed and aahed at their spectacular colours.  It is a time of year which I usually love but this year has been different.  It seems to have been a season of waiting.

Five mornings a week the alarm goes off at 6.30am and the Best Beloved gets up, goes downstairs, feeds the cats, eats a bowl of cereal, goes into the bathroom to perform his ablutions, comes back upstairs with two mugs of tea and waits for the 'phone to ring with an offer of work for the day.  Most days it doesn't ring - it only rang once in October and this month it has rung six times so far.  If it does ring he dons his trousers, shirt and tie, makes himself a packed lunch, picks up his jar of coffee, mask, hand gel and briefcase and drives off to work.  If it doesn't ring by 8.30am he dons a pair of shorts and a jumper, picks up his walking boots and drives off to the nearest hill for a walk.  During this second lockdown the hill has been very busy as gyms have been closed and some of those who would usually take their exercise in a gym have been walking up and down the hill instead - the Best Beloved says this is obvious because they are wearing sports leggings, have headphones in their ears and carry water bottles.  He is glad the gyms will be reopening next week.

My grandchildren attend a nursery two days each week while their parents are at work and three times this term Cottontail has been sent home with a cough or a raised temperature and had to have a covid-19 test.  The whole family has then had to isolate themselves for two days while they waited for the results, which have been negative every time.  With a negative result, the parents have been able to return to work and the children to nursery.

I was offered a job in September.  It seemed genuine, the manager took up references and I had to complete a DBS application online and provide the company with evidence that I really am who I say I am.  The company owner told a friend of mine, who is his neighbour, that I am lovely!  After waiting in silence for a few weeks, I rang the office to find out what was happening and the manager told me that the owner has a different plan now.  She didn't actually say, "We don't want you anymore," but I realised that she meant it.  To use a cliche, it was a crushing disappointment.  

I have been waiting in for deliveries.  With Christmas approaching and non-essential stores closed, I have ordered gifts online (eschewing the large company named after a river in South America and choosing small, independent businesses instead).  Waiting for them makes me anxious, although it's not as if I have anywhere else to go, but the confinement is limiting.  I just know that if I pop outside to put something in the bin or sweep up the leaves, the parcel will arrive during those minutes and be driven off somewhere else, necessitating another wait on another day. I even worry about popping into the bathroom!

We have been waiting for The Mathematician to visit us for months.  Her planned visits in April, May, July, October and November were all cancelled by covid.  Each time we have a tentative plan the situation changes and the plan goes out of the window.  We all miss each other very much and she is as desperate to see us as we are to see her.

Like everyone else in the UK, we are waiting to find out what the restrictions will be in our area once the lockdown is lifted next week.  Will we be in able to meet with other households indoors?  Will all our shops be open?  And of course, how will we be able to celebrate Christmas?  I don't think we'll be able to hold our usual gathering of four generations from eight households but will we be able to be with both of our daughters at the same time?  Will my parents be able to see their great-grandchildren?  Will there be church services?  Will I be able to use the restaurant voucher which my sisters gave me for Christmas last year?

I am a planner, I like to know what's ahead of me so I have found all this not-knowing difficult to bear.  Last week, I decided that I can't carry on like this any more, waiting while the sand shifts beneath my feet.  It's shredding me. So, I decided that we will not make any plans for December, other than that we shall put up a Christmas tree on the day of the winter solstice.  We'll be very, very flexible and go with the flow - if we can spend time with our nearest and dearest, that will be a bonus but if we can't, we'll spend it "a deux" and make sure we have plenty of treats.  We shall make the best of whatever it turns out to be and I will not be disappointed.  The Best Beloved declared himself unavailable for work on Thursday and Friday last week and we had two lovely, relaxed mornings without hovering anxiously by the 'phone.  I felt the tension ease, physically and mentally.     

One thing I have done is buy this little book for myself.

Yuletide is a sort of Advent calendar, with a page for each of the days of December.  The introduction states,

"We would like to take you on a journey through the dark days of December by telling you a little about the festive season's ancient past, traditions, ways, folklore, stories, superstitions and musings relating to the British Isles."

Just my kind of thing.  My Advent calendar is eight or nine years old now, every January I fold the little cardboard doors back down and weight it down under a heavy book so that I can open them up again the following December, so I didn't feel guilty about treating myself to this book.  I bought it here if you fancy taking a look.  Talking Trees Books were an excellent company to deal with and I think I shall be shopping there again. 

Whatever is happening to you in your part of the planet, I hope you are safe and well and if the best you can do is to cope, scraping through by the skin of your teeth, well done.  You are doing enough.  Take care. 

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x




Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Half Term Memories

Hello, and thank you for dropping in.  Thank you too for the kind comments left on my last post.  You lot are lovely.  The weather here has been typically autumnal with wind, rain and sunshine, in fact we have had all of that today, but it's not cold and although we are lighting the fire in the evenings at weekends, we haven't turned the central heating on yet. I am thanking God for small mercies because there hasn't been much income this month. 

So, it's half term week and I am feeling a bit wistful.  For years now we have gone away during half term, usually to visit family.  That's the thing when you live a long way from the rest of your family, you spend your holidays visiting them.  The Best Beloved's parents lived on the south coast of England and mine live in South Wales so these visits often included trips to the seaside.  In more recent years the Best Beloved and I snuck away for a few days to North Wales on our own but for the last few years half term has seen us take the ferry from Poole to Guernsey with The Teacher and her growing family to visit The Mathematician.  This year, of course, there are no trips and for the first time in years, we are at home, almost as far inland as it's possible to be in this country and I am missing the sea as well as the people I love.  I am trying to keep busy and distract myself, looking for the tulips as I can't have the roses, but I am a little melancholy, reminiscing over our past trips.  I thought I'd share some photos with you.

This is the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth under an intensely blue sky, still under construction in October 2003 and at this stage known locally as the Pompey Peg because of its resemblance to an old-fashioned dolly peg.  

In October 2006, some of us (not me, I have no head for heights) ascended the completed tower to take in the views. 

This is the beach at Dinas Dinlle in Gwynedd, near Caernarfon, in October 2009.  This is one of my favourite beaches and when the tide is out there is always treasure to be found for beachcombers here - shells, mermaids' purses, pretty stones - as well as the most amazing view of the Llyn Peninsular.  When the tide is in, the view is still there but the beach is not.

Here is the beach at Ogmore-by-Sea on the Glamorgan Heritage Coast in October 2010.  The weather was glorious and we took The Mathematician and two of her cousins.  It was even warm enough for a paddle (but only just!) and I found an ammonite.  I have very happy memories of that day.

Here are the almost endless sands at Aberffraw on the west side of Anglesey in October 2013.  This is another wonderful beach.  You park your car in the village and then walk along the estuary until the big expanse of sand appears in front of you.  Storms and strong currents wash things up here - I have seen large shells, fish boxes from Ireland, a dead seal, a dead porpoise and, once, half a dozen heart sea urchin tests.  The shells and the sea urchins were the only things I brought home!

This was our first trip to Guernsey in October 2016.  The Best Beloved and I went out by ourselves to L'Eree Bay to watch the sun set over the sea behind Hanois Lighthouse.

This is Porth Trecastell on Anglesey in October 2017 the day after a storm.  The waves were strong and hardy surfers were making the most of it, wearing wetsuits and helmets.  There were two dead leatherback turtles washed up on the beach that day.  It's another of my favourite beaches, not because of dead turtles but because of the golden sand, the dunes, the rock pools, the cliffs, the ancient burial site on the headland and the lovely family memories I have made here.

In October 2018 we were back in Guernsey and the sun was shining.  The sky was so clear that we could see all the way to France that day from Jerbourg Point.

 


This is me on the beach at Cobo Bay in October 2019.  The weather was dreadful that week - our journey was delayed by storms for twenty-four hours and it rained almost all week, but we went out whenever it stopped, wrapped up against the wind.  We LOVE to be on a beach.  

I'm off now to look for those tulips.

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x



Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Creativity

Hello, and thank you for calling in.  We are safe and well, although with two teachers and two tiny people in our family the dreaded virus seems to be coming closer and closer.  Little Cottontail, now almost fifteen months old, had a runny, snuffly nose last week  and a little tired cough (for a day) and her nursery would not let her attend until she had taken a Covid-19 test and received a negative result, even though she had none of the official symptoms of the virus.  The poor darling had to have those very invasive swab tests, and of course she screamed her head off, and then her parents were not allowed to go to work until the negative result came in, forty-eight hours later.  We are now waiting for her to get the next inevitable nursery cold and repeat the whole process.  

Autumn arrived here with a deluge.  After an initial week of relentless rain we had some glorious blue skies but the sunshine is replaced by rain every time I'm ready to grab my camera and go out to enjoy my favourite season so I've been cracking on with some creative projects instead.  Creative projects have saved my mental wellbeing during this year.

I always knew that I was not "artistic" because when I was a child I wasn't good at drawing or painting and that was what I knew to be the definition of "artistic".  Those were the school lessons I enjoyed least of all and I was immensely relieved when, after two years at secondary school, I was able to leave the art room behind for good.  There is a caveat to that: in my first year, we had to draw an animal skull in pen and ink, I think it was a sheep, and I remember a gentle and empathetic teacher explaining how we should look at the object in front of us and how we should replicate what we saw.  I enjoyed that lesson, sitting quietly by myself and becoming absorbed in the task, oblivious to what was going on around me, and the following week I walked into the art room and was absolutely amazed to see that my drawing had been mounted and displayed on the wall.  My heart swelled with pride.  It was a unique occurrence and memorable for that.  Last year my mother gave me my school reports and I was amazed again: in that year I attained 87% and a Grade A for Art!  I think that must show the power and effectiveness of a good teacher.  The following year, with a different teacher, I attained 68% and a Grade B but he commented that I was a "very capable girl".  I had completely forgotten that I was ever any better than hopeless at art. 

When I was in my twenties I realised that I did have some artistic sensibilities.  I bought a house and read lots of interior design books and magazines and discovered that I had strong views about how colours are affected by light and which colours I wanted to live with.  Actually, now that I think about that, I probably developed ideas about that when I was a teenager and started using make-up.  I have always known that blue eyeshadow does nothing for my hazel eyes!  Still, I associated being artistic with the ability to paint and draw and so it was not a label I could attach to myself, even hesitantly.

A couple of years ago I had an interesting conversation with my eleven year old nephew.  He has the talent and skill which I lack and loves to paint and draw and had painted small canvases for his aunts and grandparents for Christmas.  He told me how important it is to him to be able to exercise his talent and express himself with paint, particularly watercolour.  I told him how important it has become to me to do something creative every day.  I remembered a keen gardening friend who once told me that because he worked in an office all day, gardening provided him with the outlet to create something with his hands and my businesswoman sister who makes the most beautiful greetings cards.  I thought of other people I know who dance, play musical instruments, cook wonderful meals, bake and decorate extraordinary cakes and take stunning photographs.  It has taken years for me to realise that I am creative - I still wouldn't use the word "artistic", even though I now know that the word encompasses far more than the ability to paint and draw.  I looked up definitions of "creativity" and I liked this one:

Creativity, the ability to make or otherwise bring into existence something new, whether a new solution to a problem, a new method or device, or a new artistic object or form. (www.britannica.com, the website of the Encylcopedia Britannica)

Over these last months when I have had to spend so much time at home, creativity has given me something to do to fill the time, something to focus on entirely so that there has been no room for my mind to wander to grim, hopeless places and something very satisfying indeed.  I'd like to share the results of some that creativity.


The Teacher asked me to make her a blanket big enough for her little family to snuggle under together.  She asked for pastel colours and together we settled on the Dune blanket by Lucy at Attic 24.  I had fallen in love with this blanket as soon as I saw it and I was delighted to have a reason to make it.  I made the double bed size, with a starting chain of 266, but it sits on my daughter's king-sized bed and drapes over the sides, as you can see.  It's enormous and she loves it (phew!).  There wasn't a great deal of mental creativity involved in this project as both the stitch and the colours were all dictated by the pattern and a good deal of discipline was involved in its creation: I made myself work at least two rows every single day for seventy-nine days.  I reckon there's about two hundred hours of work in it altogether.  However, I conjured it into existence and my spirits sang as I worked on it, filling me with joy.  I have never considered myself to be "a pastels person" but I absolutely love the way these colours work together.  I almost couldn't bear to hand it over!  

Then there were the crocheted rainbows which I showed you in August, bedecked with beads and pompoms, twenty-one of them all told.  That did become a bit of a chore, only because there were so many of them, but playing around with the beads as I carefully selected them was great fun, and watching the summerhouse fill up with them was very satisfying - there were ten of them in there at one point.

As usual, there were rainbow blankets for babies.  My standard colours are Lipstick, Spice, Saffron, Lime, Turquoise, Violet and Magenta and I didn't choose them myself, I copied them from another crocheter, but each border is different.  I have made two of these since March.


Then there was a new rainbow blanket, a commission, with instructions that I could choose the pattern and rainbow colours myself.  I chose Stylecraft Special DK as usual because it washes and wears so well, which I think is important in blankets for small children, but this time I chose a much brighter palette of Matador, Jaffa, Sunshine, Grass Green, Turquoise, Empire and Proper Purple.  I was worried about the Jaffa and the Matador as they are almost bright enough to require the wearing of sunglasses(!) but the other colours pulled them in and they all worked well together.  I couldn't fail to smile every time I looked at it.


We celebrated Cottontail's first birthday in July and I crocheted her a jacket using some scrumptious, squishy Stylecraft Special Aran yarn.  As he unwrapped it for her, Tom Kitten looked at me and said, "You made it!" and my heart filled up.  It is SO special to be able to make things for the people you love.




My creativity didn't all involve yarn and hooks.  One of my sisters reached a milestone birthday at the end of July and another of our sisters created a photograph album for her.  There was much remembering and reminiscing as images flew through cyberspace and I decided to use some of mine to make her an explosion scrapbook.  I bought the basic box in Hobbycraft along with several punches, card, ribbon and glue and I spent about twenty hours decorating the box, inside and outside.  Inside there were three layers of photographs, images, messages and quotes from her favourite films and books as well as her signature recipe.  Tucked away in pockets between those layers were little cards from myself and my daughters and inside the inner box there was a packet of my sister's favourite childhood sweets and a tiny string of Happy Birthday bunting.  Honestly, I enjoyed making this SO much, and it felt good to be using different skills.  Sorting through old photographs and collating them is another creative pleasure and I made an album for my cousin, celebrating the same milestone birthday eleven days after my sister.  I am definitely going to make more albums, and more explosion boxes.

Well, I think that everything I have shown you so far has looked pretty good but now I am going to something I created with love and care and not a great deal of skill!  When my sister asked me to spend her special birthday with her I decided to make her a celebratory cake.  This was brave because my cakes look very homely - I've never used a piping bag and I've only used fondant once.  I'm a bit old-fashioned.  However, I couldn't bear the thought of her going without a birthday cake on her actual birthday so I consulted my friend's thirteen year-old daughter, a keen baker.  She suggested a pinata cake - in case you haven't come across one of these before, it's a three-layer sponge, filled and covered with icing, with a secret hole in the middle which is filled with sweets so that when you cut a slice, the sweets spill out of the centre.  Got it?  Another super-duper baking friend suggested that I use a madeira cake recipe as it's more robust than my standard Victoria sponge and that if I had a deep cake tin, I could bake it in that and slice it into three layers rather than bake each layer separately.  So that's what I did.  I baked the cake the day before the birthday and the next morning, when it was cool and settled (which is more than I was!), I held my breath and sliced it horizontally, twice, something else I've never done before.  I made a ridiculous amount of chocolate butter icing, which I have rarely done as one of my children never liked it, sandwiched the layers together with the sweetie treasure in the middle and covered the cake.  I smoothed the icing as best I could and as you can see, it's not smooth!  This is probably the ugliest cake my sister has ever received but it was made with love and I think she appreciated that.  Best of all was that she had never come across a pinata cake before so the sweets were a big surprise.  Making this cake caused me a great deal of worry and tension but it was as important to me as that mounted drawing of a sheep's skull hanging on the wall.

                                                 


This is how it looked before I put the top layer on. 

Now that schools have reopened and we are easing back into the old routine, to some extent, I have reverted to yarn, needles and hooks but I have not forgotten that I stretched some different creative muscles and that I enjoyed it.  I saw a side of myself which I haven't seen for a long time and which I'd like to see more often.  I think that creativity isn't merely an end in itself but it facilitates other activities, too: a long time ago I read that learning to play a musical instrument improved children's academic performance in other subjects, too.  That's why I think it's important to make time and space to be creative.  I'll leave you now with a definition of creativity from the author C.J. Lyons.

"Living in possibility and abundance rather than limitation and scarcity."

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x




Saturday, 3 October 2020

St Leonard's Church at Linley

Hello!  Thank you for dropping in, you are very welcome here.  Summer has gently slid into autumn since my last post, the flowers in my garden are fading and while last week I sat out in the sunshine and watched small white butterflies feeding on the last of the buddleia flowers and bees foraging in the jasmine, cosmos, hardy geraniums and ivy, this week I have donned a cardigan.  It's been raining and I almost put my boots on too, but I really can't bear to do that yet because once they're on, they stay on until the spring and I'm not quite ready for winter thoughts.  I want to savour autumn. 

Every year since 1994, September has seen Heritage Open Days in England and where possible, I have tried to use the opportunities to visit places which are not usually open to the public or to visit free of charge places which usually charge an entry fee.  I knew that it would have to be different this year because of Covid-19 and when I looked online to find out what was happening in Shropshire I found an online lecture and a few churches.  Now, you probably know that I like visiting an interesting church and as I haven't visited one since 23rd February, I got quite excited at the thought.  I read through the list and chose St Leonard's Church at Linley, a redundant church which is now in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust and is described as a "secluded medieval delight".  So, on Sunday 20th September the Best Beloved, his camera and I set off under a blue sky.  It was the perfect day to be driving through the Shropshire countryside as the sun made the hedges glow like emeralds and the trees filtered the light to dappled shadows.  We bowled along the B4373 and once we were in the vicinity I started looking out for an unmetalled track on the left - I needn't have worried, a very clear sign said, "St Leonard's Church, Linley" so we took the turning with confidence and drove along the track until it widened on both sides into an informal parking place.  I got out of the car with my trusty 1968 Shropshire guidebook and walked up the slope to the church.  I noticed that there was no graveyard and that the land in front of the church has become very overgrown, although some clearance work has been started.  I hope it gets finished, it will make a great difference to the approach to the church.  I also noticed a large yew tree which is probably hundreds of years old and I found some comfort in that:  the world may have changed a lot since February but wherever there's an old church, there's usually an old yew tree.  Plus ca change, as my mother says.


It is almost nine hundred years since this simple church was built.  The tower was added a few decades later, at the end of the twelfth century, and as I looked up, I wondered who was in the stonemason's mind as he carved those grotesques.  That made me smile.  The pyramid roof which tops the tower was added in the first half of the nineteenth century and the east wall of the church was rebuilt in the second half of that century but the rest of the stones of this building sit where they were laid in the twelfth century.  The arched doorway with its carved tympanum is typically Norman and I told the Best Beloved to mind his head as he entered the church as those typical Normans were shorter than we twenty-first century Elizabethans and that doorway is less than six feet high.




This is what we found inside. - 

As usual, there was a Victorian "restoration".  Those bloomin' Victorians!  They enlarged the windows in the nave, rebuilt the east wall (I can forgive them that) and gave it a triple window, added a piscina in the sanctuary (in a Norman style - cheeky!), took out the old pews and refashioned them into panelling for the chancel, installed new pews, fitted new iron candleholders to the walls and tiled the floor.  The stained glass in the new east windows was designed by William Warrington, who also designed windows for the cathedrals in Norwich and Ely, and the triptych behind the altar was installed in about 1870.  The pulpit was brought to the church in 1948 from another church.  This "restoration" work was begun in 1858 and I was intrigued to discover that the architect was London-based Arthur Blomfield, for whom Thomas Hardy later worked, and that Blomfield paid for the work himself.  I wonder how that came about?  I'm still working on it and I'll let you know if I find out.  I do like the fact that Blomfield tiled the sanctuary floor with encaustic tiles made a few miles away in Ironbridge Gorge by Maw & Co.  I can't help but feel that they would look even lovelier if somebody occasionally ran a mop over them!


                                                                           






However, the Victorian alterations didn't ruin the church and there is still some Norman loveliness to be found inside, including the arches which lead from the nave to the tower and the chancel and the huge font, lined with metal and big enough to dunk a baby in the water.  Its outer surface is covered in intricate carving (apparently of the Herefordshire school) and these carvings are one of the features which make this church a "destination".  The roundels on the north side apparently emerge from the mouths of demons, but I couldn't make that out.  








Outside, we walked round to the north side of the church and found the other feature which makes this church a destination.  Here is another Norman doorway, this one blocked up centuries ago, and over it is a tympanum which is clearly carved with a rather naughty figure which I have seen described as a grotesque animal with a human face, a demon, a Green Man and a sheela-na-gig.  I shall leave it to you to decide for yourselves.  Whatever it is, it's almost nine hundred years old and very well-preserved in this sheltered spot.



I am quite fascinated by these carvings, that such intricate work could be done with tools and technology which we would consider to be "basic".  I wonder about the men who made them and how and why they designed them.  I placed my index finger onto the side of the font and traced the groove of the carving, following the track made so long ago by a mason's chisel and imagining that I could feel the vibrations of the stone just as he did.  St Leonard's is indeed a secluded medieval delight and a lovely place, perhaps because those ancient carvings have kept the nasty spirits away?

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x