Category Archives: winter

Living in tupperware

I’ve just had, what? 17 days off in a row. Much needed they were, an’ for this respite grateful thanks, an’ all that.

17 days.

The sun shone on three of them.

Still, I remind myself that the reason English women have such beautiful complexions is that we live in a cool damp climate. Our skin never fully dries out.

Twelth night, or what you make of it

For sale:

6 brace of game-birds (partridges) well hung

A perry orchard (one dozen trees)

A flock of pigeons (22 birds, mainly white)

A flock of fancy hens (30 birds)

Song-birds, (36 available in singles or pairs – cages supplied to first 9 applicants)

A large flock of geese, good layers (42 birds, will separate)

21 pairs of swans (only to homes with open water)

Herd of cattle (40 beasts, TB tested, from BSE-free herds, good milkers)

Available for hire:

Dairy operatives (40 available for reasonable rates, will travel)

Dance troupe (36 females, 30 males, fancy costumes included)

Military-style band (22 woodwind players, 12 percussionists)

Wishing you peace and joy at Christmas

The best thing I can offer you for Christmas, gentle reader, is something I found on Patry Francis’s blog. It is a quiet and loving story about her mother and grandfather one Christmas many years ago; it is a moving story, beautifully told.

The Secret Name – by Patry Francis

And all that’s left for me to do is wish you peace and joy at Christmas and happiness and prosperity in 2007.

Wishing you peace and joy at Christmas and happiness and prosperity in 2007


Festive Quiz

This quiz makes some assumptions about the way that various mid-winter festivals are celebrated in the modern world. Feel free to change it to suit your circumstances.

Which mid-winter festival(s) did your family celebrate when you were a child?


Which mid-winter festival(s) do you celebrate as an adult?

None. Oh, ok. Christmas if you insist.

And New Year, so long as it doesn’t involve being snogged by strangers.

Earliest Midwinter / Christmas / Hanukkah / Diwali / Solstice / New Year / etc memory?

Not sure, just a general feeling of sustained excitement, I think. It was always wonderful when the Christmas decorations go up.

How did you find out that Santa does not exist?

Again, I am not sure, I think I always knew he came into the same category as fairy-stories – I remember writing my Christmas Letter to Santa and burning it on the fire, thinking “well, the grown-ups expect it, don’t they”.

How old were you?

See above. 5?

Bestest ever ever EVER present?

A toy typewriter. Aged 5. Though I was bitterly disappointed that it took me another decade to learn to type.

It’s better to give than receive – which gift that you gave someone else pleased you the most to give?

Tricky, this one. I gave my father a garden bench once, but that was a birthday present. But it did please me to give it to him.

Favourite festive tradition?

Carol singing, as a singer or an audient. But it must be real singers and real carols. I have been known to accost the organisers of mechanical carol floats and abuse them. It is just possible that abusing the organisers of mechanical carol singing is in fact my favourite festive tradition.

Least favourite festive tradition?

Over-eating. In what possible world do we need mincemeat pies and christmas cake and christmas pudding and stollen and marzipan logs all on the same day? The trouble is that we have accreted traditions rather than selected them.

What do you eat for your main festival meal?

Turkey and trimmings usually, and christmas pud.

Who prepares it?

It varies, this year it’ll be me and the one I prepare meals with.

How long is your (Christmas) card list?

Dunno. 30-ish. It used to be longer, but my most recently gained friends are on-line.

Presents – all at once or one at a time?

One at a time, for preference. I’m nosey and like to see who’s got what.

Worst ever festive memory?

Flu. Real, bone aching, head throbbing, feverish, wish-I-were-dead-RIGHT-NOW flu.

Just what, exactly, do you understand by the phrase “all the trimmings”?

Cocktail saussages with streaky bacon wrapped around them. Roast potatoes. Sprouts. Carrots. Another veg, probably leeks. Stuffing, two kinds, one each end. And gravy which has had to be seived, because there was a sudden disaster with the flour.

Stocking or pillow-case?


Queen’s speech or James Bond?

Neither Either. Not bothered.

Best yule-tide film?

Another tricky one, because I watch so few movies. I am trying really hard not to type “It’s a Wonderful Life”, especially as I’ve only seen about 45 minutes of it.

Least toe-curlingly awful Seasonal Special of a normal TV show?

Got to be Angela Rippon’s appearance on Morcambe and Wise. Who’d have thought she had legs, let alone such long ones. I can actually remember the feeling of “oh my god, what’s happened, it’s CHRISTMAS, it must be something AWFUL” when she appeared on the screen when it first went out. Yes, I am that old. Just.

Strangest festive tradition or habit of a family other than your own?

My former in-laws all open their presents at the same time, rip the paper and throw it away afterwards. This deeply shocked me the first time I spent Christmas with them. It also meant that I’d no idea who’d got what for Christmas. Very disappointing if you’re half as curious about these things as I was.

Oh, and they play Canasta. Or scrabble.

How early is “too early” as in “Christmas starts too early these days”?

You don’t want to know my answer to this one. More realistically, anything before December is “too early” in my book.

Have you ever been to the appropriate religious ceremony on the festive day, such as Midnight Mass or Eucharist on Christmas Day If so, when was the last time you went?

Midnight mass – I went two years ago; I rather like Midnight Mass. Church on Christmas Day? A year or so before that, as light relief from the Buddhists. I’d been to a Buddhist Puja on the same day, which was peaceful.

(UK only) Farepak – have you given?

Not yet.

Single mother, pregnant and homeless? Crisis is another appropriate cause.

Those Christmas puds look good.

Winter bus stop

cold feet, cold fingers,
cold legs, cold face, cold eyelids,
heavy rain, darkness

Calvinist Weather

I loathe and dislike the darkness and storm-lashed bad temper of winter, and I’m not too fond of the coldness of it either. I loathe them to the point, sadly, where I can’t always enjoy the summer the way I should because it will be followed by winter. ‘Ah yes’, I say to myself as the sun set fades at 10:30 on a downy summer’s evening, ‘but it’s all downhill from here; it’ll be gales and dark by 4.00 before I know it’.

How Calvinist. You’ll be punished for enjoying the good things god gave you. How much better to be miserable all of the time.

Then it struck me that the hard-line protestant religions, including Calvinism, are all either from the mountains or the north. They are from places with seasons, anyway; places where the winter is a dangerous endurance-test, rather than a mild interlude.

How much nicer to be an easy-going Catholic where it doesn’t really matter what you do, because the next day’ll be mild or warm or pleasant or wonderfully hot, and all you need to do to enjoy it is confess and get absolution. No bitter frosts, week-long gales, dead plants, damp houses, pneumonia, chilblains or frostbite for you. Just a couple of hail marys and go in peace and have a nice day.

Going green

Like Charlotte, like a lot of us, I am trying to be greener. Unfortunately when I bought my house a year ago, I did not pay attention to the poor public transport connections between where I live and where I work. Let’s put the rather embarrassing fact that I drive about 20,000 miles a year on one side. I am finally making practical changes to my lifestyle which make me feel virtuous, even though will make no practical difference to the future of the planet at all.

(1) Freecycling. – just the most wonderful idea. A true example of think global, act local. The website provides links to tens of thousands of yahoo email groups, and the idea is that stuff is offered for free locally. The chances are high that there is one in your town. So far I have got rid of two half bottles of Citroen hydraulic fluid (how else would one get rid of that?) a couple of tickets to Alton Towers and a clothes rail. When I told a colleague he muttered about people taking the good stuff and re-selling it on ebay, but – as with beggars – I’d rather be ripped off than not trust. A lack of trust erodes the soul. I get a huge amount of pleasure out of giving stuff away to be honest, and this is a cool route to a quick hit.

(2) Padded curtains. This comes under the energy efficiency section really. I am slowly making myself padded curtains for the doors, and curtains with thermal linings for the windows. I’m also putting up thermal roller blinds in the windows. If you are having curtains made, you should be able to order padded interlining and thermal linings, and making curtains really is not that difficult. You just need a large floor for cutting out and pinning, and the ability to sew in fairly straight lines.

(3) Woolly jumpers. This comes under the energy efficiency section too. Looking back on it, it astonished me that when I was elbow high my grandmother and my mother would change into long skirts in the evening. With my grandmother it was more understandable, a generational habit. My mother was younger so it was odder. These long skirts were not glamorous. They were home-made out of worsted or some other itchy wool and because they were itchy they were lined. When I asked my mother why she bothered, she said “but it gets cold in the evenings”. And indeed it did. Ice on the inside of the windows cold. So what I had assumed to be a legacy of pre-war standards was just a matter of thermal-efficiency. I draw my personal line at long skirts, but I do have sheepskin slippers and woolly jumpers and cardigans.

(4) Carbon Neutrality. This one really is papering over the cracks in one’s conscience. Essentially, you work out your carbon profile, and then pay a company to plant enough trees to ‘compensate’. The problem with this is that current experiments in forests in the US, Germany and Australia are challenging the received wisdom that trees reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and that most people won’t do it. I am sure there was a similar scheme run by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. Pardons? Indulgences? I need a medievalist to tell me. On the other hand, I like trees, so I regard it as a charitable gesture and hope for the best.

(5) Organic Veg box scheme. The internet was made to make it easy to find box schemes for organic veg. The reason for using small schemes is that they use veg from local farms, so you are improving your local economy, eating fresher food and reducing your food-miles. Do not be seduced by supermarket schemes. Their schemes just pimp out their existing vegetable section; and like most pimps, the supermarkets bully their suppliers and don’t care about food-miles. I rather like the randomness of not knowing what veg I will get next week, and the discipline of planning my meals around what I’ve got.

(6) Composting. My local council sells compost bins ‘worth’ £40 for six quid. With an offer like that it’d be rude not to. Mind you, one of my neighbours muttered darkly about smells, so I had to say “if it smells, we’ll get rid of it” – I did offer him the compost for his allotment, which made him marginally less gloomy about the whole thing.

(7) Recycling paper, glass, metal, plastic. Did you know you can recycle plastic milk- and drinks-bottles? Neither did I until our local kerbside recycling scheme started up. I recycled before, but at least my car is no longer full of carrier bags of tins and bottles waiting for me to take them to a supermarket recycling centre. The composting and recycling have reduced my rubbish to landfill by about 2/3rds, which is practical and pleasing.

(8) Public Transport. Having admitted that I drive some 20,000 miles annually, I do try to take the train or the bus when it is sensible. National Express is one of Britain’s unsung transport treasures. Trains too, are much easier to use now that we have the internet to plan journeys and book tickets, and there are some oddly useful routes, Birmingham to Brighton via Kensington and Gatwick for example. I still think that a rail journey should be significantly cheaper than the same journey by car, but that is another rant for another blog.

(9) Expensive stuff. Now we move into the realms of expensive stuff, like solar roof panels, lpg vehicle fuel, and domestic wind turbines. I haven’t done any of this, but it is interesting that B&Q are starting to sell this stuff (though in what sort of world can £2498 be described as “only”?) In the meantime it seems simplest just to give a list of links which kinder and greener people gave me when I was first investigating the subject.

  • The Low Carbon Buildings Programme – which makes the expensive stuff cheaper: “The low carbon buildings programme will provide grants for microgeneration technologies to householders, community organisations, schools, the public and not for profit sector and private businesses.”
  • The Centre of Exellence for New and Renewable Energy – A good source of information on the choices available for domestic generation – “NaREC is involved in developing the micro-generation technology. We are supporting items as diverse as roof parapet wind turbines, biomass combined heat and power, and systems to integrate renewable generation into homes at the build stage.”
  • The Centre for Alternative Technology – “We address every aspect of the average lifestyle – the key areas we work in are renewable energy, environmental building, energy efficiency, organic growing and alternative sewage systems.”
  • The Alternative Technnology Centre – slightly dippy-hippy organisation based in West Yorkshire (it runs courses on how to recycle plastics as a medium for crafts, art and technology) – “As an educational resource centre, we aim to make sustainability achievable and simply irresistible by working from a strong base within our local community to provide inspiration, accessible information and advice to improve the quality of life using sustainable means – economic, environmental and social.”
  • Micro-cars – This is so not suitable for me, given that 30% of my mileage is motorways, and another 50% is A roads: But the G-Wiz makes the Smart Car look big, clunky and gas-guzzling. To be honest though, shouldn’t you be using public transport, if you live in a place where this is a suitable vehicle?

Right, enough time indoors this morning! I am off outside to scrub up some reclaimed flooring blocks to use as the uprights in a bookcase. Sustainable forestry? Eat your heart out Ikea!