Double Celebration Day

Flag of St GeorgeToday is St George’s Day. St. George is the patron saint of England – we share him with many other regions, towns and countries around the world as well, including Catalonia (Spain) Georgia, Greece, Lithuania and Russia to name but a few!

Despite being our saint’s day today is not a Bank Holiday, oh no, that would be too patriotic and here in England we are not allowed to be patriotic in case it upsets those amongst us who are not ethnically English; it’s not ‘PC’ to be patriotic about England.

St. Patrick’s Day (for Ireland) is a Bank Holiday, so is St. Andrew’s Day (for Scotland) and we are allowed to celebrate special days with those whose ethnic roots are not here in the UK, such as Diwali or West Indian Carnival amongst others and we have St. Patrick’s Day parades in English cities, but nothing for St George.

Actually that is not strictly true, we do have St. Georges Day Parades. Many towns up and down the country have Church Parades for the uniformed organisations such as Guides, Scouts and armed forces Cadets, led by a band and members of the British Legion. This is usually a simple march up a short length of road, carrying their banners, into Church for a service on the nearest Sunday to the day (this year that was yesterday) and does not inspire a great deal of celebration amongst the population at large, no major public show of unity, purpose and celebration – I repeat, that would be too patriotic. I can’t help feeling that there are large numbers of our population who not aware that today is St. George’s Day, or possibly even that he is our patron saint.

The second cause for celebration today is that it is also the birthday of the bard – William Shakespeare. Unfortunately I also fear that there are many who are equally unaware of this and probably don’t care anyway – despite the fact that they quite unknowingly quote (or misquote) from his works in their ordinary everyday speech. If I start listing all the words, phrases and expressions he introduced into our language I will be here all day and beyond!

So in honour of our Double Celebration Day today I wish you all a Happy St. George’s Day and leave you with a quote from the bard:

“The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit; and, upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry! England and Saint George.'”

Henry V Act III Scene I

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The Last Sail

Red Dawn IV

Red Dawn IV

I have mentioned before that we are selling our yacht ‘Red Dawn IV’, a Barbican 33. We have both been sailing for more years than we care to remember – my husband first sailed when he was in short trousers and I learned to sail dinghies in my teens. We have owned boats off and on all our married life, but all things must come to an end and my husband has decided to ‘swallow the anchor’ before we are too old and decrepit to maintain the boat properly, especially as it is a four-hour drive from home to the marina.

We have owned this particular boat for about 12 years and kept her all that time at Bradwell Waterside in Essex on the River Blackwater – not convenient for home but very convenient for sailing across the Channel to Europe as we have done many times. Having placed her on brokerage at Burnham on the River Crouch in Essex we decided to give up our marina berth in Bradwell and move her to the brokers yard. Our contract with the marina ends it the end of March so we needed to move her before then or risk having to pay a daily rate for our berth – expensive!

Frozen snow in the cockpit

Frozen snow in the cockpit

Last weekend we needed to go down to Essex for an important meeting so we decided it was a good opportunity to go on down to the boat and sail her round to Burnham. However, the weather was awful as the second instalment of ‘the beast from the east’ struck the UK. When we arrived at the boat late on Saturday afternoon it was bitterly cold, windy, and the boat was covered in frozen snow, as you can see from the picture of the cockpit. We hibernated in our cosy cabin – electric fire and our Taylors Paraffin Stove on full blast for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday while the weather slowly improved, but we were concerned that we would not get the job done before we needed to go home on Thursday and that we would have to return another time.

Wednesday, however, turned out to be milder with sunny spells and the wind had dropped so we decided to go. We left Bradwell at 10.45am, motoring with the mainsail up. It was still chilly but dressed in two of everything we were just about warm enough! After about an hour we were at the mouth of the Blackwater, drinking coffee and eating energy bars, sailing past the lovely little chapel of St Peter on the Wall (one of my Special Places) and on out to sea, noticeably cooler and several white horses in evidence.

There are two routes round the coast to the River Crouch, a long route which takes you out beyond the shallows and then back in again, or the shorter route across the shallows through the Ray Sand Channel. We opted for the short route so that we weren’t out in the cold too long and the later start fitted in better with the tide for getting out of the marina. This route, however, is something of a challenge. You have to get the tides right, arriving at the start in time to have enough water and yet to go through on a rising tide as it does get VERY shallow.

I remember the first time we went through, in our very first cruising yacht, an old clinker-built Dauntless called ‘Noom Zor Noom’. We had two of our three children with us then, a toddler and a small baby. We kept the boat on the River Roach, a tributary of the Crouch, and had been up the coast for a holiday. It was one of those situations where we had to get back for work but the weather wasn’t good. We chose the Ray Sand Channel route (probably a mistake in retrospect) for speed. We probably got the tide slightly wrong and in those days we had no modern gizmos – no Radio to call up with, no GPS, no mobile phones, no Chart Plotter, only a speed log and echo sounder. The wind and tide were pushing us off course and out of the channel – it was getting very shallow and you don’t really know which way to go to find the deeper water! It was also a bit rough, tossing us about. I was not a happy bunny, in fact I was scared (hubby now admits he was too!) and rather worried about how I was to get a small child and a baby safely off the boat if we came a cropper! It was with some relief that we made it safely through and into the river.

Red Dawn IV at Burnham

Red Dawn IV at Burnham

This time we arrived at the start of the channel at just the right time (12.45) for the tide, plus it was spring tides so we would have plenty of water, with also the benefit of the Chart Plotter to help keep us on course. It was a bit sloppy in the mouth of the Crouch due to wind against the tide, the wind also got up a bit and keeled us over badly a couple of times but I was able to make lunch as we went along. We took down the mainsail as we reached the entrance to the River Roach and motored on to Burnham Yacht Harbour in good time, arriving around 3.00pm. We then were able to tidy up, remove the sails ready for her to be hauled out onto the broker’s yard and drive home on Thursday – a horrendous trip, but that’s another story! The yard was not able to haul out this week so we will need another trip down when that happens. Then we have three months free storage at the yard while they try to sell her for us.

It was with mixed feelings that we left the boat; an enjoyable 4-hour trip round, despite motor-sailing all the way in order to keep up the speed, but tinged with sadness that this would be our last sail, unless she doesn’t get sold, in which case we will have to think again!

 

Writer’s Groups

I have for many years been a member of two writer’s groups, as I have mentioned on this blog before, and have even shared some of my writing inspired by those groups.

I stopped going to one of the groups a few years ago for a variety of reasons; mainly because I felt I had to some extent outgrown it. Also the group met every week and set three or four ‘homework’ exercises every time as well as expecting us to bring and share our own writing. For me, although I enjoyed the social aspect of the meetings, with this much expectation of work a weekly meeting was too much. I found it rather too demanding as it left little time to indulge in other interests, of which I have many.

On top of that there was always a group writing project on the go, with members expected to contribute by writing scenes involving people from a pool of pre-set characters, to be eventually slotted together into a novel (basic plot outline having been agreed before-hand). Admittedly none of this was compulsory and there was no backlash if you didn’t write anything, but even so I did feel obliged to have a go and used to try to do at least one piece each week, although I never contributed to the group novel – not my scene at all, nor were the resulting ‘novels’ anything that I wished to read! These group novels were invariably a farce, which is again not my scene but seemed to appeal to those in charge. Several times I tried to veer the enterprise in another direction (fantasy, sci-fi, children’s novel – anything!) but without success. To my mind a weekly meeting with so much expectation of work was too demanding and latterly I had only been going as I used to give another lady a lift and she couldn’t go if I didn’t. I eventually found out she was no longer interested in the group either and was only continuing to keep me company! So we left.

The second group was much more rewarding. We only met once a month and only set one piece of work for the meetings. We would select a topic which could be interpreted however you wished and wrote our piece accordingly – this could be a short story, a poem, a factual article or whatever you liked. Mostly people wrote a short story or a chapter from a potential novel. The work was then shared and discussed at the next meeting, with appropriate helpful comments. People could also offer their own writing projects for comments if they wished. The writing was on the whole more substantial and considered than the offerings for the first group. This group had a much more professional approach.

Sadly, however we only had a core membership of five people. Some others came and went from time to time but never seemed to stay long – perhaps we were too professionally minded for them! Towards the end of last year that core of five was whittled down to three due to age and illness of two of our members. On top of that I was away for most of the autumn, so that left only two to attend the meetings. Inevitably the group got put on hold until ‘after Christmas’. So far it has not been reinstated.

Currently then I do not attend any writer’s groups and I miss it, I miss the discipline and commitment. Having a deadline to actually produce a piece of work is a great motivator. I have written very little since the demise of the second group. I do have work in progress and projects I need to finish. One of the projects I have in mind is to go through all the short stories I have written for the second group, see if I can assemble them into some sort of order and edit them to produce an e-book – if only I could find the motivation.

 

A Tale of Two Pheasants

A while back I reported that we had a pheasant visit our garden (you can read about it here). Since then he has regularly visited and I have been feeding him. Now he comes and taps on the French Window when he wants food. He doesn’t appear everyday and I know several other people have reported seeing him in the neighbourhood so he is obviously exploring food potential in other gardens. The picture below shows him feeding in the snow a few days ago. He is gradually getting more tame and now walks towards me when putting food out rather than retiring to a safe distance.

First Pheasant in the snow

A few weeks after his first visit a second pheasant turned up. This one is smaller and seems older. They had a bit of a barney for an hour or so then I noticed them fly off, the original pheasant chasing the other. Eventually the first pheasant returned, presumably victorious at having sent his rival packing. We hadn’t seen this second pheasant since – until yesterday.

Our recent snowfall had turned to rain and was slowly washing the snow away. We noticed the second pheasant in the garden looking very soggy and sorry for himself. He seemed very dozy and we were a bit worried about him. He greedily gobbled up the food I put out and a short while later was asking for more, which was also greedily gobbled up.

The two pheasantsThen the first pheasant also showed up and the pair of them dodged around each other, marking each other’s movements for quite some considerable time, the smaller pheasant not giving ground. This built up to another fluttering challenge, until finally I noticed that Pheasant No. 1 – the bigger one and furthest from the camera in the photo – had gone again but the smaller one was still here, still looking dozy and unhappy.

No. 2 hung about all day looking miserable but greedily gobbling up food as soon as we put it out. We fed him many times during the day until eventually, by mid-afternoon he was looking a whole lot better. Soon after that he also disappeared.

Number 2 on the fenceThis morning, however, he was back again, shouting to be fed. My husband went out in dressing gown and slippers to feed him first thing. He finished that off and was asking for more when I appeared a short while later fully dressed. Again he gobbled that up, running towards me when I filled the dish – though he came no closer than about 3ft away, just to be sure he was safe! A little later I saw him sitting on the fence and was able to get quite close to take this photo. He still seemed a bit dozy and had one foot tucked up underneath him for warmth. Shortly after I took this photo he disappeared again. The first pheasant hasn’t been around today at all.

If you are wondering how I can tell the difference, well, as I said number 2 is smaller and seems older. He also has a larger silvery grey patches on his wings – perhaps a sign of age? The first pheasant is bigger and more impressive, obviously in his prime. Today he seems content to leave our garden to his rival but will he back tomorrow? Will they both appear again? I don’t know, but at least they both know that if they do turn up they will get fed.

 

Special Places

I have mentioned here before that we are selling our yacht, my husband has decided it is time he ‘swallowed the anchor’! These days we get more use from our Motorhome, which we bought to replace the yacht so that we can tour more easily on the continent and visit our daughter in Spain. When the yacht finally goes I know I shall miss visiting the special places that we have found on our voyages. These include two rather special marinas, one at Tichmarsh on the Walton Backwaters (behind Walton on the Naze) and the other at Woodbridge on the river Deben, where you will find the last working tide mill in the UK. Both these marinas are very hard to leave once you have arrived there; they seem to take hold of your soul and won’t let you go!

Interior, St Peter on the WallBut there are some even more special places. One being the wonderful little chapel of St Peter on the Wall at Bradwell on Sea (see photo). This is said to be the oldest church in England and is not far from Bradwell marina where we keep the boat. It was built on a lonely spit of land where St Cedd landed in 654 on a mission from Lindisfarne to bring Christianity  to Essex and was built using stone from the ruined Roman fort of Othona nearby. After about 600 years of continual use it was eventually abandoned and was used as a barn. This may well have saved it. In 1920 it was rediscovered and brought back into use as a chapel. Services and other activities are regularly held there now and, although on one occasion that I visited and sat on one of the benches I did feel an almost overwhelming sadness, it has a wonderful atmosphere of peace and calm.

Another very special place that we have visited many times when sailing is an old oak grove alongside the river Orwell between Pin Mill and Wolverstone. Sadly I do not have any photos but this is an amazing place to walk through. The power, wisdom and aura of peace that these old trees generate is palpable, making my palms itch and my whole body feel alive, I just have to walk among the trees, touching each one that I pass. I shall so miss this place.

Knowing that in future I will have so much less opportunity to visit these places I need to find alternative special places nearer to home. There are many that I hope to visit in the future and I have been meaning to visit for some time but somehow have failed to do so due to life getting in the way. Cannock Chase is not such a long drive from where I live and I have visited in the past, but not as often as I would like. If you are lucky you will see deer here, maybe even a stag in full antlers. There are also several places nearer home. Some I pass regularly by car or on my bike but have never stopped – either in too much of a hurry to get to where I am going or not happy about leaving my bike in the car park while I go walk-about.

This year I intend to re-visit some of these places that I have neglected or make a point of stopping at those that I have so far not visited at all. One such place is actually within walking distance (all-be-it a fairly long walk) and it is my intention to make it my first point of call once I have finally got rid of my recent flu and lung infection and the weather has improved. I shall be writing about these places here as and when I visit each one. I’ll try to remember to take my camera too.

Nature Spirits

I am in the process of re-reading ‘The Secret Life of Nature’ by Peter Tomkins, which was published in 1997 and which I first read probably in the early 1980’s. This was a follow on book to his ‘The Secret Life of Plants’ published in the 1970’s.

‘The Secret Life of Nature’ is about living in harmony with the hidden world of Nature Spirits, from Fairies to Quarks and is an interesting mix of what many would consider fantasy (fairies, gnomes, elves etc.) and modern science – psychics versus physics. It relates evidence for the unseen world of Nature Spirits as seen by clairvoyants. These spirits function all around us to produce the beauty of nature as we know it. They can be seen flitting around plants and trees, helping them grow, but not just at ground level, many of these beings are also found in the wind and the waves. Sadly I have never seen them myself but have long accepted that such things exists. Whether you consider it spiritually or scientifically, to me it is undeniable that there is an ‘essence’, a ‘spark’ of life that ensures a tulip is just that and not a holly bush. That things are what they are is due to an obvious blue-print and that they thrive is due to that essence of life pulsing through them – the life-force.

The book demonstrates how closely the observations of these clairvoyants now concurs with the findings of modern science regarding nature and way the universe works, the building blocks of matter, although they were at first streets ahead and ridiculed by the scientific community. I was absolutely knocked out the first time I read the book but over the years normal life got in the way and much of what I read was lost into the subconscious. Now I have rediscovered this amazing work and am knocked out anew. It makes you look at the world in a whole different light and anyone who takes these findings on board cannot but be amazed by the beauty of nature and the need to conserve this marvellous planet on which we live.

This also gives me a dilemma; whether you visualize these Nature Spirits as fairy creatures or just think of them merely in scientific terms as bursts of energy, where do we stand when caring for our gardens and countryside? What are we destroying when we mow our lawns, dig up our weeds, prune our trees? Have we any right to destroy what the life energy is creating in this way? But what is the alternative – do we allow our gardens to become rampant? How exactly do we find the compromise and work with these spirits to the mutual benefit of all?

So much of our countryside is ‘tamed’, yet it seems these spirits are still more than happy to work with what is there, but is it perhaps time we began to cover less of our towns with concrete and allow more room for nature – even if it is ‘tamed’. Maybe the old idea of ‘Garden Cities’ is not such a bad idea after all. Meanwhile I am still looking for those elusive spirits, but even now the world of nature has become a much brighter and more vivid reality. Somewhere I have a book about the Findhorn Community – I have read it twice already but may it is time I read that again too.

Cold or The Flu?

I have, had, am recovering from the flu.

I say this with some reservation as I am usually reluctant to claim the flu for what is probably just a cold. Many people these days seem to say they have flu when they just have a bad cold, after all it does sound so much more dramatic, especially if you are trying to wrangle a few days off work. Although the two conditions share some symptoms they are very different beasties. I have had flu before. The last time was many years ago when I was at college and I remember how ill I was. I have had bad colds since, but nothing as bad as genuine flu until now.

I’m not a doctor botherer, I don’t believe in going to the doctor with complaints that I feel I can deal with adequately at home. Doctors should be reserved for the serious problems, especially these days when the NHS is short-handed, under-funded and can’t afford the luxury of treating those who don’t really need it. When I was a child our family GP had a sign on his waiting room wall which read “Prescription is the art of keeping the patient amused while Nature effects a cure.” Well I’m not fussed about being amused, just let Nature get on with it – with a little sensible self-help.

My son started first, with what we, as usual, dismissed as a bad cold. Then a few days later my husband succumbed. A day after that I got it. This was last Tuesday; in the morning I was fine, went to my Spanish class as usual, came home then a short while later from having no symptoms I suddenly had a splitting headache, my eyes hurt, I ached and coughed. After that I was fit for nothing for several days, the lightest effort left me exhausted and I was alternately frozen or sweating hot! – all three of us were the same, at slightly different stages according to when we first went down with it. Pretty well all I could do was sleep and even that was often disrupted. Using my brain for anything was out of the question. I confess I am now slightly worried as you can incubate the flu for a couple of days before symptoms appear and I just hope I haven’t passed it on to the rest of the Spanish group, some of whom are not young!

My son insisted it was flu. I was still reluctant to name it as such but when I began to feel slightly better I decided to check out whether or not what we had was indeed the flu or just a bad cold. I came across a simple chart on the internet showing the differences between the symptoms of a cold and the flu which I was hoping to share here in case anyone else finds it of help but it won’t let me so here is the link: http://www.cdc.gov/flu. Our symptoms ticked all the Influenza boxes.

Now what I don’t understand is that both my son and I lost our appetites, I could hardly face food at all, though my husband could still eat to his normal capacity. In fact he never seems to lose his appetite when he is unwell, whereas I always do. The other slight problem is that he had, several weeks earlier, had the flu jab, after which he felt very unwell with tightness in his chest and pains in his arms – which coming after his recent angina diagnosis was a trifle worrying especially as his ‘puffer’, didn’t shift it. The jab obviously didn’t prevent him getting the flu. With the vaccine given a less than 50% effectiveness rating I don’t think he will bother again. I didn’t have the jab; perhaps the main difference has been that normally, at least with a cold, he would get it worse than me but this time I seem to have been worse than him, so maybe it did do him some good after all.

I am now on the mend, my head doesn’t ache, most other symptoms have reduced but I do have a rather nasty cough that keeps me awake and sometimes gets such a grip I don’t think I’m going to stop. But on the plus side, due to my loss of appetite I have now finally lost the few extra pounds I put on over Christmas and New Year – be thankful for small mercies.

Englyn Form

First up a photo of the snowdrops in my garden. This really ought to have accompanied my last post ‘Spring Englyn’ which you can view here but I hadn’t taken the photo then!

snowdrops

Since writing ‘Spring Englyn’ I have done some more research about the form and it seems I had only discovered the simplified form. What I have written is. I believe, called an Englyn Penfyr where Penfyr means ‘brief ending’. This form was used in verses attributed to a Welsh noblewoman, Heledd, in the 7th Century, in which she lamented the death of her brothers in a battle against the Saxons at Pangwern (modern Shrewsbury).

I came across another website (www.volecentral.co.uk/vf/englyn.htm) which tells me that the Englyn is a Welsh verse form that is very difficult to write. As well as syllable counts there are rhymes to contend with, as demonstrated in my little poem, but they can also have more lines than the three each stanza that I have used. The four line stanza version has syllable counts of 10, 6, 7 and 7 (with the AAAA rhyme pattern). As I mentioned in my previous post the rhyming syllable is before the end of the first line. The information on this web site stipulates that is the 6th syllable. And then there’s the cynghanedd…

“The what?” you ask. Yes, my sentiments exactly. The cynghanedd is a concept apparently peculiar to Celtic poetry and is very difficult to do in English. It is an attribute of a line of poetry. There are several forms of cynghanedd, of which four are relevant to the Englyn. “Each is a tightly specified structural requirement involving rhyme or alliteration, or both”, which may or may not be used in particular positions in the Englyn. (Clear as mud isn’t it.) There is no specific explanation given as to exactly what cynghanedd is so the best I can do is to quote the given example from the above mentioned Vole Central website, with the request that you respect the copyright of the original poet Bob Newman:

In flight, the butterfly knows utter bliss.
Sun today, soon to die,
Full of joy, life on the fly
Scales the void, the scombroid sky.

We are told this example uses all four kinds of cynghanedd although this is not necessary. The first line uses ‘cynghanedd lusg’, the second uses ‘cynghanedd groes’, the third ‘cynghanedd draws’ and the last ‘cynghanedd sain’. As I cannot at this time offer any better explanation on the nature of these variations I suggest anyone interested in having a go at this form studies the rhymes/slant rhymes in the quoted example. Or you could, of course, be content to have a go at the apparently simplified version of the Englyn Penfyr (which should strictly also contain cynghanedd), following the rules given with my Spring Englyn post.

If it is of any comfort the Canadian poet Robert Skelton, who died in 1997, gave examples in his now out of print book ‘The Shapes of Our Singing’ (still available on Amazon) but he does not use strict cynghanedd on the basis that it just doesn’t work as well in English as it does in Welsh. I’m not sure I will attempt the far more complicated rules I have tried to explain here but if you wish to have a go all I can say is Good Luck!

Mystery Solved

When we came home from our autumn holiday I noticed that all along the back of our house, scattered over the tubs and flower-pots there were a quantity of little polystyrene balls. I could only think that they were packaging from something my son had bought while we were away but he said not. So where had they come from? Since no others appeared I soon put it down to one of those things you never find out and forgot all about it.

Then, last Tuesday as I was getting ready to go out, with a weather forecast of rain and possibly sleet, I glanced out of the kitchen window and noticed a few spots of white stuff floating down. I assumed it was the promised sleet. When I went out to the car however it was not raining, nor was it raining when I returned home at mid-day. Again glancing out of the kitchen window I noticed a few little puffs of the white spots floating down quite close to the window and realised it was more little polystyrene balls. I went outside to investigate.

Looking up at the back of the house I could see a hole in the wall just above the waste water pipe from the bathroom where it angles to join the soil downpipe. Every now and then a little puff of polystyrene balls came floating out of the hole. My husband came up from working at the bottom of the garden and asked what I was looking at so I pointed out the hole. Now, a few years ago we re-jigged the bathroom and this hole was where an overflow pipe had emerged. The pipe was no longer needed and had been removed. The hole had been mortared over, quite badly, and some mortar had fallen out! What was floating out was obviously our cavity wall insulation. Then we noticed a slight movement in the hole. “Must be a mouse or something,” said hubby and we wondered how a mouse had got up there. Something moved again. “No, it’s a bird.”

As it moved yet again, pushing out more polystyrene balls we could see a beak and a white head marking, but not much else. It had to be a small bird to fit through the hole so my first thought was that it was a Long-tailed Tit, being small birds with white head markings. We assumed it was nest-building there. I wasn’t quite sure about my identification as Long-tailed Tits are gregarious birds flying around in gaggles of half-a dozen or more and it seemed strange that one should choose to snuggle up for the winter and nest alone.

Hubby got the ladder and climbed up to enlarge the hole by removing some of the mortar and peer in, but he couldn’t see anything and nothing moved. He then decided to knock out the half-brick that was next to the hole. Still nothing flew out and nothing pecked him when he stuck his hand in. Quite clearly we were concerned about having the bird nest in our wall and tossing out our insulation. Having stood on watch for a while with nothing emerging we decided to go indoors for lunch. While sitting at the kitchen table, underneath the hole I suddenly caught a glimpse of a bird flying from the wall into our neighbour’s hedge so we immediately went outside again. Up the ladder once more, my husband began to fill in the cavity wall around the hole with glass-fibre insulation that he just happened to have spare and then, when we were as sure as we could be that there were no birds inside he found another brick, cut it to size and filled in the enlarged hole properly. I watched carefully over the course of the afternoon but no distressed bird returned trying to get back in so I assume it was the only occupant.

Not being sure of my identification I thought about it some more. The beak and bit of head that we did see seemed too sleek to my thinking to be a Tit so I looked in my bird books and I now think it more likely that it was a Pied Wagtail as these are known for being more independent and for nesting in walls. Whatever it was it had chosen a good spot – the angled waste water pipe provided a ‘doorstep’ in front of the hole and it was only a few short yards to a ready supply of food at the bird feeders. It had found itself a cosy bijou residence for the winter! We really could not leave it to nest in our cavity wall but I can’t help feeling a bit guilty about evicting it. I just hope it has found somewhere else cosy to build its nest.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

NB Pictures from Wikipedia and the RSPB

Twelve Days

Candles and hollyMy friends who follow me on Facebook will already be familiar with this rant but I want to share it here too. To whit, the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Christmas celebrations seem to begin earlier every year and from at least the beginning of December you can expect to see Christmas decorations and hear Christmas ‘musac’ everywhere. People decorate their homes and gardens earlier and earlier as if trying to score points by being the first, with the result that by the time Christmas actually arrives they are already fed up with them and longing to take them down. Some even do this on Boxing Day, if they can take time off spending yet more money in the ‘Sales’ that they might even have queued up for over night! Others do at least last out until New Year, but as far as many people are concerned Christmas is over, they are back at work and the children will be back at school in a day or two if not already.

On 2nd January this year my husband and I visited our local tip with some junk cleared from our barn. There were people there throwing away their Christmas trees. It saddens me. There are twelve days of Christmas – the first being Christmas Day itself, so twelfth night is the night of 5th January and traditionally decorations stay up until then, not being taken day until 6th January. This is also, in Christian tradition, when the three wise men arrived at the stable – Epiphany. Even in pre-Christian times the celebrations at this time of year lasted for many days welcoming the return of the light with feasting and firelight.

I believe in tradition and I think it is good to honour the old traditions, it is the way I was brought up. When I was little, yes decorations were seen in the shops from around mid-December and yes, we probably visited Santa in his grotto to tell him what we wanted for Christmas, or we wrote our letter and posted it up the chimney (who has those these days – well actually we do, but many don’t) but decorations were not put up in our house until after my older sister and I had gone to bed on Christmas Eve. That way, when we came down on Christmas morning it was wonderfully exciting, it had wow factor.

As we got older we were allowed to help with the decorations and eventually do it all ourselves, but still not until Christmas Eve (i.e. the day before the first day of Christmas). When I had my own home I carried on this tradition although, with so much to do at that time it gradually got slightly earlier, to maybe the weekend before Christmas. As my youngest son’s birthday is 20th December we usually got the decorations up by then, in time for his party and often ‘Santa’ dropped by to give the children their goody bags, but even so they never came down before 6th January, we had our full twelve days of Christmas.

This year I have had a slight problem in that we have been away this weekend in order to attend a family gathering hosted by my brother-in-law and his wife on 6th January, which was great, but I can’t be in two places at once. What was I to do about the decorations? For the first time ever I have taken some down before twelfth night. I took down the outside tree lights (no-one was going to turn them on when it got dark anyway) and those in the porch and hallway, I have also removed the odd piece of tinsel but the bulk have stayed in place, including the indoor tree, and they will have to wait until we get home tomorrow before being packed away for next Christmas – a compromise of sorts!

Meanwhile maybe I will start a campaign to bring back the full twelve days of Christmas – and it starts here!

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