Today is the bestest day to celebrate the existence of God’s Own County.
Drink tea, eat parkin, and be merry, for tomorrow there may be trouble at t’mill.
While other things are going on, here is something I made earlier.
The Offspringses were colour-coded as children so they all knew whose was which flannel, toothbrush, sunhat etc. Here we all are as snowpersons. Sigoth is a huge Dr Who fan so he got the cool scarf because I didn’t knit a fez and bow-tie this time around. Maybe next year…because bow-ties are cool. As are fezzes.
My dears, the season of mid-winter is upon us (in the Northern hemisphere at least) and so my heart turns to blessings and for the new year. You may celebrate it on 1st January or on 22 December, whichever you prefer. You can go the full Wicca if you like, and remind me that new year was on 1st November. It takes all sorts, and thank goodness for it.
This year Sigoth and I will be celebrating more pagan roots by burning a traditional yule log at mid-winter before welcoming the Offspringses back for Christmas festivities. We’ll have any celebration going at the dark of the year.
So it’s time for the Wassail Cup, my dears. The traditional Wassail is derived from the Old English phrase “wes hal” meaning “be you hale/well.” It’s like “farewell”; they tended to say it as a goodbye.
With that in mind I wondered if you might care for a little traditional reading, taken from the Anglo-Saxon Bible? It turns out that Luke vs 1-20, the traditional Christmas story, sounds rather lovely in the old tongue, and I discovered I could mangle it onto a recording for sharing with you.
I apologise now to scholars for my terrible pronunciation. Let’s call it dialect, shall we? Yes, let’s.
So now for a little journey back in time to a 10th century church in the English countryside, and a well-known story.
Happy New Year to you all. Peace on earth and goodwill to all beings.
“Your turn in the chair next time,” said October. “I know,” said November. He was pale and thin-lipped. He helped October out of the wooden chair. “I like your stories. Mine are always too dark.” “I don’t think so,” said October. “It’s just that your nights are longer. And you aren’t as warm.” “Put it like that,” said November, “and I feel better. I suppose we can’t help who we are.”
― Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders
As we huddle shivering in our homes on All Hallows Eve and the ghouls and ghosts cavort in the midnight skies, our primitive selves acknowledge how fragile we are. Like porcelain, like butterfly wings, like a head of dandelion seeds about to scramble in the breeze, like a bubble, like a house of cards. We may break and tumble and fall down shattered.
This time of year, Samhain, Hallowe’en, when night has decisively wrestled the majority share from day, half way between solstice and equinox, is when we recognise our vulnerability, confront our fears and make peace with our ancestors.
Tonight our house will be strangely quiet, as Sigoth and I munch pumpkin pie alone. But the gate will squeak and small children will stumble up the dark path to the pumpkin lantern and knock on the door in full expectation of chocolate. And it will be so.
Humans are amazing. We turn frights into fun, and joy into fear, as if alchemy were nothing to be wondered at.
Ah, Summer! As the sultry July days count down to August splendour, naturally I was overjoyed to receive my first charity Christmas catalogue in the post yesterday.
Bad enough there were cards in the shops even before the children had broken up from school. Bad enough that the restaurants are already advertising their special menus and group bookings for the December festivities. Bad enough one the shops I regularly buy clothing from sent me an Autumn/Winter clothing catalogue. I could just walk away, averting my gaze and muttering a Hail Mary under my breath like a lost monk in Soho.
This one mugged me though. This one was in an envelope promising other goodies. Sigoth and I recently signed up to be members of a particular charity and here was our shiny handbook, detailing places of interest to visit. Our dreams of weekends spent traipsing along cliff tops were rudely interrupted by the advent of, well, Advent. In July. In a heatwave. I do not live in the Southern hemisphere, so it was just wrong on every level.
Still, I don’t want to be all Scrooge about it. Who doesn’t like a jolly winter festival with feasting and frivolity and fat men stuck in chimneys? If I’m going to have repetitive tunez inflicted upon my eardrums in shops I would prefer Noddy Holder over some Lounge Lizard any day of the week, or indeed, week of the year.
So bring it on. After all, I make the cake in September so it can soak up the brandy goodness for a few months. Not long until September really.
With that in mind I’m starting my Christmas list, and I’m going to share it with you so you know what to get for my stocking.
Have a marvellous summer.
Occasionally I post about life as a British Quaker under the structure of the Quaker Alphabet Project 2014. I haven’t done so for a while and am in danger of falling behind schedule, so here is a post for the L of it.
There is a perception often quoted, not unreasonably as it turns out, that Quakers are a bit on the mature side. It’s true we have “Young Friends” who are pretty active. However, they remain sadly outnumbered by the Silver Horde, at least in my neck of the woods, and in keeping with many other religious congregations in this country. There was great excitement the other month when a bona fide young person of the teenage persuasion applied for membership of the Society. It was like getting a letter from Elvis c/o the Loch Ness Monster and delivered by a leprechaun riding a rainbow. What I mean to say is, it was a bit unusual and slightly thrilling.
Some years ago I was fortunate to be a member of a relatively large Quaker community with three (count them!) age groups for under-16s. It was not the usual experience of Quaker groups up and down the length of the land. Since moving Up North I am now a member of a small and chronologically-well-endowed group. Yet we do not despair at our reducing horizons because we now have two young people among us – a male toddler and a female school person. They bring their parents along about once a month and keep company with various members of the meeting who enjoy playing with toys and drawing pictures and singing songs while the parents snooze in the main meeting room. It’s an act of kindness really.
The best bit of all is when they join everyone for the last fifteen minutes of the meeting for worship. In Britain, Quakers usually hold silent meetings for worship (not having “programmed” services like, say, Anglican churches, with sermons and singing and standing up and sitting down all and repeating words out loud). The people present sit quietly, apart from the Rumbling of the Stomachs, and wait for ministry to find them. Most people think it is a bit odd, but nevertheless the end result is a usually a quiet room filled with slightly sleepy people who have been sitting for 45 minutes and are beginning to feel it.
Enter our Youngest and Brightest! We hear them clattering along the passageway, with their retainers encouraging them to be quiet by making lots of loud shushing noises. The children usually are making no real noise at all, but never mind. The door swings open and in comes the first child, beaming from ear to ear to see all the old folks grinning at him, and often reaching out hands to welcome him inside. Then his sister, a little more self-aware and so slightly shyer, comes in behind him, composed and clutching some treasured picture to share with us. It may go straight on the table in the middle so we all crane to see it, or she may wait until Notices are read out at the end and then wave it at us. Meanwhile her brother sings to himself or stumbles around from one arthritic knee to the next, smiling up at the faces and dribbling a little. Sometimes we dribble back. It depends on the medication.
Quakers are very fond of using the imagery of the Light Within or Inner Light to talk about their relationship with God. Nowadays we don’t generally describe ourselves as Jesus’ little sunbeams, just talk about Light in a more general, non-denominational way. Early Friends in the 17th century were more direct in their writings about God and Jesus, but still the imagery of Light was fundamental to much of their thinking.
I was under great temptations sometimes, and my inward sufferings were heavy; but I could find none to open my condition to but the Lord alone, unto whom I cried night and day. And I went back into Nottinghamshire, and there the Lord shewed me that the natures of those things which were hurtful without, were within in the hearts and minds of wicked men… And I cried to the Lord, saying, ‘Why should I be thus, seeing I was never addicted to commit those evils?’ And the Lord answered that it was needful I should have a sense of all conditions, how else should I speak to all conditions; and in this I saw the infinite love of God. I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. And in that also I saw the infinite love of God; and I had great openings.
But when our children join us in meeting for worship they bring that infinite light and love with them and in abundance. It is a gift to us and one for which we are humbky thankful.
What a thrill – the B4Peace t-shirt arrived on my birthday!
Many thanks to Kozo at everydaygurus.com for coming up with the idea, for nurturing it and for sorting out the t-shirts. Go and visit him.
Don’t you love Spring? Well, perhaps you don’t but I quite like it, although Autumn is my season of choice. I like the in-between seasons, which are full of possibility. Summer and winter seem so fixed in their ways and I enjoy the bracing winds of change and blue horizons. They offer potential.
Anyway, Spring. Time for some more positive reflections on life, the universe and everything after recent dark and ponderous posts. Spring, the season of cute little baa-lambs, poetic daffodils and inexplicable urges to wash the windows and vacuum the loft. There are lots of birds flapping about with tree trunks in their beaks as they prepare nests for their hard-wrapped offspring. I imagine finding an endless source of nourishment for hungry beaks after the bairns have hatched is a glide in the park after all the construction activity.
The miserable side of my soul mutters in a corner about hay fever and sunburn in my imminent future, but I have her under control. No sunburn for me as I go out very little due to working, and I live in England which doesn’t get enough sun to be dangerous. Plus my hay fever seems to have lessened over recent years so I appear to have grown out of it. Take that, roasting rays and pesky pollen! Who knew working long hours and getting old could be so good?
Another thing to look forward to is the Chocolate Festival. The family are all due home for the weekend, so I am planning menus. The rhubarb is growing nicely in the garden so crumble is on the list. We like our rhubarb crumble in EBL Towers, with thick, sweet custard, the kind you eat with a knife and fork.
The final Spring activity at EBL Towers is Birthday Overload. Four birthdays in 24 days, my dears, put a bit of a strain on the celebratory muscles. With ChocoFest inevitably added into the mix we are the very definition of Party Animals; at least, the kind of Party Animals who might participate in the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and end up sleeping in the tea pot.
My father’s birthday was in June, near solstice. He used to say he liked having his birthday then because it was half-way to Christmas so spread the presents out nicely. I, on the other hand, like my April birthday because it was half-way through the school year and didn’t get spoiled by exams or people being away on holiday with Granny in Wales. In those days a week with Granny in Wales was as good as a fortnight in Turkey for today’s young people, and we were grateful for it. My granny lived with us, so a week in her sitting room was the best I got, or a day trip to granddad’s in Croydon.
I didn’t have birthday parties. We tried once and it was a terrible failure because my mother had absolutely no idea how to run one. We had a cake for tea but she didn’t know any games apart from gin rummy and sent us into the garden where it rained on us. After that, I moved on to getting infected with diseases at the local cinema: three birthdays in a row produced measles (Snow White), mumps (Pinocchio) and chicken pox (Dumbo). I am not a Disney fan and now you know why. He ruined my birthdays. Later birthdays were day trips with a best friend, usually to London or Kew Gardens. Even today I associate my birthday with hiding in a den under rhododendrons and pretending we were fighting pirates or cowboys or bank robbers, I forget which. It hardly matters: we were the goodies and we couldn’t lose because of the narrative imperative.
Nowadays I like the end of short, dark days and appreciate the onset of lighter evenings. I don’t mind dark nights. In many ways I quite enjoy them. Again they are more mysterious and secretive, and being out in them or at home feels quite secure and comforting. It’s just that going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark wears thin after a few months. When the first good days in Spring roll in, there’s a sense of desperation in the air as the population surges outside and exposes their pasty, goose-pimpled, northern flesh to the vitamin D enriched goodness of our local star. Even I, encased in layers of crumpled clothing, turn my face up to the sky and soak up the beams of life-enhancing light. Then I sneeze and hide indoors.
We know Spring is really here now because Sigoth is cutting the grass between showers and we are thinking about whether to risk hanging the laundry out. The bluebells are massing to put in an appearance, annoyed that the grape hyacinths have beaten them to it. There is forsythia ablaze in half the gardens along the street, and our lilac tree is shuddering under the weight of orgies of sparrows, getting jiggy in the twiggy.
I still prefer Autumn but rumbustious old Spring is pretty nice. Feel like sharing some seasonal thoughts? Get on, then, I’m looking forward to hearing from you.
This is the time of year when I start to think about age. My mother’s birthday was last week, mine is next month (she remembered hers alright, unlike the names of her grandchildren or when my father died; it’s so ingrained she won’t forget that until the last), along with Sigoth’s and two of the Offspringses. It’s pretty much birthday time all the time at EBL Towers just at the moment.
Ageing is not a popular pastime in western culture. I think that’s a shame, because we all do it every day and we can’t change that, so we might as well enjoy it. For example, I am about to become 52, which sounds like fun. There was a song my mother liked when I was a child about a deck of cards. It’s mawkish and sentimental, but at least it makes 52 a magic number. I have to say, 51 is not very exciting unless prime numbers are your thing. I like proper numbers that are made up of other smaller numbers, in different patterns and combinations. I think it makes them more interesting. I am not interested in a number you can only make by multiplying it by one. It leaves no room for creativity.
Perhaps I will invite friends round to play cards and eat cake.
There are many reasons I enjoy getting older. I have mentioned before that I suffer from depression. I have done so since I was a child and there hasn’t been anything anyone has been able to do about it, myself included. It doesn’t sit well with me, because I am a fixer. The pills don’t work, no matter which ones I try. Talking therapies are too expensive, although the occasional short series of sessions I have managed to access have been partly helpful but insufficient for any long term benefit. Pulling my socks up has only made holes in the toes.
It turns out that in my case ageing seems to be part of the answer rather than part of the problem. I know many people don’t like it or see it as positive but I really enjoy it. My depression has generally been worse during times of hormonal excess – puberty, pregnancy and menopause were all especially difficult, when the demons were at their worst. Now I am past all that nonsense, things are calming down.
I don’t know how other people experience depression, if they do. In my case it has been like a veil between me and the rest of the world. At times the veil has been relatively thin and I can reach through it and make contact with people. At other times it has been so solid and unyielding that I am trapped, able to see dimly through it but disconnected, unable to be heard or seen by others. The veil is always there, but lately it is gossamer thin, at least most days. It has worn away to a cobweb over time and I for one am cheered by that. Perhaps it will turn out that I am the mightier, that I have more staying power, that I will be the one to win the race. That is not what I expected, and I am glad for it. Who’s the stronger now, eh?
And I blow a raspberry at the veil. It mutters to itself in a corner and I start to see it for what it is – a bully, not insuperable, not immortal and not intact.
Today the veil was thin, yesterday it had a burst of energy. But I think I am winning the war, if not every battle. The tide is turning.
I like ageing. As I grow older I become careless. I care less what people think or say or do. I not only quote Jenny Joseph but actually wear the purple on the inside as well as the out.